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Gaps on the movement of dangerous goods in Northern Canada

As reported by the The Canadian Press, the Canadian federal government says it doesn’t know enough about how, when, and where dangerous goods move through the Canadian North, highlighting the potential risks of a major spill or other disaster.

As a result, the possible effects on public safety and the environment are also unclear, Transport Canada acknowledges.

The department is commissioning a study to help fill in the knowledge gaps and improve readiness when it comes to movement of goods ranging from explosives and flammable liquids to infectious substances and radioactive materials.

The effort will focus on regions north of the 55th parallel as well as on more southerly, but isolated, areas in eastern Manitoba and northern Ontario, says a newly issued call for bids to carry out the study.

The overall goal is to fully identify the hazardous substances transported throughout these areas and the major hubs that link to relevant airports, marine ports, ice roads, railroads, mines, refining sites, manufacturing plants and warehouses.

The information will help Transport Canada pinpoint potential risks and make decisions concerning safety regulations and compliance, the tender notice says.

A stark reminder of the difficulty of moving goods in northern Canada came when the only rail line to Churchill, Man., was flooded and it became impossible to deliver freight overland until an ice road was built.

There are also virtually no freight rail lines north of the 60th parallel, except for rail access to Hay River in the Northwest Territories, the notice says. Considering the seasonal nature of ice roads and ports, there are limited routes for movement of dangerous goods in or out of northern Canada and other remote areas, it adds.

The tenuous nature of northern transportation systems mean there are “gaps in information” about the kinds of dangerous goods transported, the volume of shipments and the sort of emergency response systems available.

“We continuously examine ways to make transportation in Canada safer for all and this assessment is part of our effort to ensure even greater knowledge regarding the handling of goods in the North,” said Transport Canada spokeswoman Annie Joannette.

She declined to provide additional information given the competitive tender process underway.

The most valuable element of the exercise could be the educational process of better informing people about the risks of transporting dangerous substances, said Rob Huebert, a northern studies expert at the University of Calgary.

“It’s always about the follow-through,” he said. “Because you can have all these exercises through the ying-yang, but if you’re not setting up the system properly and then maintaining the system, what’s the point of having it?”

Until now, Canada’s emergency preparedness efforts have largely been focused on maritime response and less on land-based accidents, he said.

“I think a lot of people always forget that the North is an area that is just so different from every place else.”

North American Rail Network (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

Better Response to Dangerous Goods Incidents Demanded by Community

As reported in the Terrace Standard, leaders in the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako in the interior of British Columbia have called for Canada’s railway operators to improve their response to incidents involving dangerous goods being carried by rail cars.

The Directors of Regional District of Bulkley Nechako are considering a resolution that calls for the provincial government to take the lead in talks with CN Rail to beef up response capabilities.

Canada’s Transportation Minister, Marc Garneau, has told his department to investigate railway incidents in Canada.  As reported in the Globe and Mail, derailments, collisions and other railway incidents soared in the first four months of 2018.

“The volunteer fire departments in the Regional District of Bulkley Nechako do not have the equipment, manpower, or expertise to respond to a notable dangerous goods event in a populated area,” notes background material prepared by regional district staffers for the directors.

“Increased training along will not increase local response capability to any notable degree. Also, many populated areas … are not serviced by a fire department.”

The background material adds that the regional district “and member municipalities are expected to response to a dangerous good incident, with CN Rail being prepared to respond to a dangerous goods event within 12 to 24 hours of being notified. Most of their response resources are located in Alberta.”

The resolution proposal builds on an earlier one which called for fire chiefs and local officials to have full information on the nature of dangerous goods being transported their their areas of jurisdiction.

But regional district staffers then noted that many areas of the province have a limited capacity to deal with a dangerous goods emergency.

“In staff’s opinion, CN Rail needs to play a lead role in developing rail emergency response strategy that is appropriate for northern British Columbia and other areas of the province where local response capacit, and CN Rail response capacity, is not adequate,” indicates the background material.

The new proposed resolution comes at a time of increased rail traffic on the part of CN Rail as the shipment of goods and material to and from port facilities at Prince Rupert increases.

Regional district directors June 7 approved of the new resolution during a committee of the whole session last week and it will be presented during the regional district’s regular meeting tomorrow.

Resolutions forwarded to Union of B.C. Municipalities conventions, if adopted, are then used as topics of discussion with senior governments.

Train Derailment (Photo Credit: (Transportation Safety Board)

 

New Brunswick Southern Railway pleads not guilty to charges related to oil transport

As reported by the CBC, New Brunswick Southern Railway has pleaded not guilty to 24 charges related to the transportation of oil.  Defence lawyer Catherine Lahey entered the pleas on the Irving-owned company’s behalf during a brief appearance in Saint John provincial court on earlier this month.

The charges against the railway, a subsidiary of J.D. Irving Ltd., stem from a Transport Canada investigation triggered by the 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que., prosecutors have said.  Twelve of the charges under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act relate to failing to create proper shipping documents for the purpose of transporting petroleum crude oil.  The other 12 charges relate to having unqualified personnel handling dangerous goods — crude oil.

The offences are all alleged to have occurred between Nov. 3, 2012, and July 5, 2013, at or near Saint John.  Irving Oil would have imported about 14,000 cars of crude for its Saint John refinery during that period.

New Brunswick Southern Railway is part if NBM Railways, a subsidiary of J.D. Irving Ltd., which also includes Cavendish Farms, Kent Building Supplies and Irving Pulp & Paper.

A trial date will be set on June 4.  Judge David Walker said the Crown is expecting to take about three weeks to present its case.  There is no word on how long the defence will take.  Pleas were delayed last month because the defence was still in the process of receiving an estimated 9,000 disclosure documents from the Crown.

The rail cars full of crude that exploded in Lac-Mégantic, Que., in July 2013 were destined for Irving Oil’s refinery in Saint John. (CBC)

In October 2017, Irving Oil was ordered to pay $4 million after pleading guilty to 34 charges under the same act.  Those charges related to failing to properly classify the crude oil it transported by train and inadequately training its employees in the transportation of dangerous goods.

The crude oil in the derailed rail cars that exploded in Lac-Mégantic was destined for Irving’s refinery in Saint John.

New Brunswick Southern Railway, along with its sister railways — Maine Northern Railway and Eastern Maine Railway — operates 883 kilometres of railway in New Brunswick and Maine.

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