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Rail realignment discussion in Surrey/White Rock poses question of which interests will be served

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A new Globe and Mail series on the lessons of Lac Mégantic paints a withering picture of failed railway regulation in Canada. The article on Dec. 2, titled, Inside the oil-shipping free-for-all that brought disaster to Lac Mégantic, explains, “Bestowed with federal powers that date back to the writing of the Constitution, when railways were nation-builders, the industry lies out of the reach of lawmakers at the provincial and municipal levels.”

The Dec. 3 article, Why railways can do as they please in Canada, gives case examples of towns and cities struggling to protect public safety in the face of railway companies that offer little information and cooperation and a federal government that just plays along.

The article looks at the first of two oil train derailments that occurred last summer in Calgary. On June 27, an oil train derailed while crossing CP Rail’s Bonnybrook Bridge that crosses the Bow River in the city center. Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi then stumbled upon the information vacuum in which municipalities operate. The Globe writer describes:

"The derailment happened just before 4 a.m., and at 9 a.m. I found myself yelling at CP, saying, 'What is in the cars? Tell me now, exactly, what is in the cars,' " Mr. Nenshi said in an interview. "This was many hours later. It's a simple question, one would think."

The article goes on to explain that when the city asked for the blueprints to examine the bridge structure, CP refused. The railway's authority over the bridge superseded the city's rights.

Another town portrayed in the article is Lac La Biche in northern Alberta. Its downtown is bisected by a CN Rail line. Trains carrying bitumen from the tar sands regularly block the road and pedestrian crossings. When the town asked the company to relocate its local rail yard for safety reasons, CN said fine, but the town would have to pay $10 million to cover the cost.

The mayor told the Globe, "When you're dealing with the railways, they've got more power than the federal government."

Several decades ago, Canada began to devolve responsibility for rail safety onto the rail companies themselves. Among the changes was that Transport Canada would no longer directly oversee the safety train operations; its role would henceforth be to audit safety reports that the railways themselves would prepare.

News reports since Lac Mégantic have revealed a litany of failings of the rail safety regime in Canada, including:

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