In the News May 20
Upholding the Right of Communities to Live Decently and Safely
“The Rail Bypass Must Be About the Recovery of the Mégantic Community, Not Canadian Pacific Profits”
Workers’ Forum is posting below a recent interview with Robert Bellefleur, spokesperson for the Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety in Lac-Mégantic. The Coalition has announced that it is withdrawing its support for the rail bypass project imposed by Transport Canada and Canadian Pacific (CP) as it is unsafe for the municipalities of Mégantic, Nantes and Frontenac.
The municipality of Frontenac withdrew its support for the project after a survey organized by residents in March suggested that approximately 90 per cent of residents are opposed to the project, particularly for environmental reasons.
A safe bypass is one of the demands of the region’s communities following the July 6, 2013 rail tragedy when a train carrying highly flammable oil — falsely labelled as lightly flammable — derailed, caught fire and exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic. This caused the death of 47 people, serious injuries to numerous others and severe post-traumatic stress for the population, as well as very extensive property damage.
CP was one of the main organizers of the convoy that exploded. The fact that it is now in charge and will become the owner of the bypass — having purchased the U.S. company that owned the rail line on which the tragedy occurred — is a matter of great concern to the communities.
Workers’ Forum: In its April 20 press release, the Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety in Lac-Mégantic announced that it was withdrawing its support for the rail bypass project currently being imposed by Transport Canada and CP. Can you tell us more about this?
Robert Bellefleur: The coalition is still in favour of and believes strongly in the need for a bypass. However, we do not support the project as presented because of CP’s operating conditions, which it informs are that the trains will be comprised of more than 200-250 wagons and will be travelling at over 40 miles per hour along the bypass.
We have never asked for a high-speed hazardous materials highway. And yet that’s what CP put in the consultation that Transport Canada held in January, clearly indicating that the trains that were 5,000 feet long are going to be 10,000 feet long, which means over 200 cars, and they’re going to be going 40 miles an hour on the bypass with loads of hazardous materials.
We asked them if they would again be carrying crude oil. They told us that they are required by federal regulation to carry what customers request they carry. This means that if Irving orders oil, with the current price of oil and the needs that Europe may have with the conflict in Ukraine, there may very well be a resumption of oil transportation through Mégantic.
Road construction has not yet begun. They still have to obtain authorization from the Canadian Transportation Agency.
The bypass will cross the industrial park’s factories, including Tafisa, for a distance of about three kilometres. The Tafisa plant is owned by a Spanish multinational and is the largest wood particle board manufacturing company in North America. It employs 350 people. Tafisa had a large fire and explosions in the industrial park in 2006 because there are a lot of wood dust particles in the air that are highly flammable.
The current bypass project puts that plant and others at risk in the case of a derailment and fire. If CP wants to go through the industrial park, then we are demanding a speed reduction to less than 20 miles per hour.
According to the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) reports on the various derailments that have occurred recently, [former] Minister Garneau’s notorious DOT 117 reinforced tank cars tore apart and ignited as easily as the Lac Mégantic cars at 40 miles per hour. Tank cars do not withstand a 40 miles per hour derailment, as we saw with two recent convoys in Saskatchewan that included DOT 117s that punctured and ignited.
Train speed is our primary concern. If convoys of 200 cars or more are going through the bypass, they must do so at less than 20 miles per hour. If they want their trains to travel faster than 20 miles per hour, Transport Canada and CP must change the route to take the trains out of the industrial park and away from residential and industrial areas.
CP wants to make the most of the bypass. That’s why we came out publicly saying we don’t support the project as presented. For them, it’s the notion of profit that prevails. The aim of the bypass was recovery, the population’s social healing. But it has become a means to ensure the economic viability of CP.
WF: Do you want to add something in conclusion?
RB: We are looking at our options for blocking the project because of the high risk factor it represents.
Lac-Mégantic continues to be at risk. The solution that is being considered is becoming more dangerous than the current status quo. We appreciate that the municipality of Frontenac has withdrawn its support for the project in light of the information we have. More and more people are asking questions.
There’s also another important aspect to consider. The more the city sells to CP its industrial park land that the bypass runs through, the more it will lose control over the industrial park and its development because CP is going to cut right through it. If new industries want to submit projects, such as additional crossings to facilitate trucking and if CP refuses, future economic development will be held hostage.
Under these conditions, talk about being “maîtres chez nous” [masters in our own home] loses its meaning. I have written open letters to the media on this issue to raise awareness.
1. For more information on this issue, read “Hold Governments to Account!” by Pierre Chénier, in Workers’ Forum, February 9, 2022..
Workers’ Forum, posted May 20, 2022.