Community Raises Alarm on Condition of Railway and Authorities’ Lack of Concern
— Interview with Robert Bellefleur, Spokesperson, Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety —
A Transport Canada inspector sent a Notice and Order to the Central Maine and Quebec Railway on May 7, regarding the alarming condition of the railway between Farnham and Lac-Mégantic in the Estrie region. On August 24, a train derailed in Nantes as it headed toward Lac-Mégantic. Although the incident did not cause any casualties or extensive damage to property, it was a stark reminder for the community of the dangers the railway poses. Everyone remembers with deep regret the 47 lives lost, the turmoil in the lives of thousands more, and damage to people’s property from the July 6, 2013 horrific explosion and fire of a train carrying crude oil.
Renewal Update interviewed Robert Bellefleur, Spokesman for the Coalition of Citizens and Organizations Committed to Railway Safety about the conditions they face and recent events.
Renewal Update: What do you see as the significance of these two events: Transport Canada’s Notice and Order, and the subsequent derailment at the entrance to Lac-Mégantic?
Robert Bellefleur: In our view, these recent events reveal the total bankruptcy of rail safety regulations in Canada. On May 7, a Transport Canada inspector issued a Notice and Order to the Central Maine and Quebec Railway stating that 253 faulty rails had been detected by ultrasound between Farnham and Lac-Mégantic, a distance of around 225 kilometres. These rails have internal cracks and are at risk of breaking.
In addition, the inspector found over 30,000 feet of corrugated rails, which indicate maximum wear. Also noted were approximately 27,000 feet of mud-contaminated rails. With precipitation, the rails sink into the mud under the weight of the locomotives and cars, placing further stress on the rails and deforming them. Essentially, the entire structure of the railway line is in need of an overhaul.
The May 7 notice sent to the company by Transport Canada did not include any restriction on operations, or any obligation to carry out repairs. All that Transport Canada requested of the company was that it undertake more inspections and report on them.
Three months later, on August 12, we found out that a piece of track cited in the Transport Canada Notice and Order had not been repaired. We alerted journalists and on August 24, a train derailed at that same spot.
It is evident that the command structure is not working. Transport Canada issues a Notice and Order; however the company is not required to carry out any immediate repairs and can simply reduce the speed of the trains and make repairs whenever it wants. Until then, the risk of derailment is maximized.
RU: What is the community’s response to these events?
RB: The coalition issued a press release stating that enough is enough. The population of Lac-Mégantic has suffered enough and has lived in fear long enough. We urgently requested that our Mayor, the Mayor of Nantes, the Mayor of Frontenac, the Prefect of Le Granit Regional County Municipality, our Member of the National Assembly and our Member of Parliament urgently exert pressure on Transport Minister Marc Garneau to immediately halt all transportation of dangerous goods on the railway traversing the Lac-Mégantic region. On September 3, we sent a formal notice to the Minister, urging him to cease the transport of hazardous materials.
Despite Transport Canada’s May 7 Notice, the transportation of dangerous goods continues on those tracks unabated. It was stopped after Saturday’s derailment [August 24], only to resume on Monday. The hazardous materials include automobile gasoline and sulfuric acid carried in DOT-111 rail cars. These cars are considered too dangerous for the transportation of crude oil, but are transporting sulfuric acid.
In our opinion, we have reached the stage where it is the people who must take charge. The population has no confidence in the authorities. They wonder when and where this is all going to end. We are organizing peaceful and legal actions during the election campaign, which we will be announcing soon. Rail Safety Week, which takes place from September 23 to 29, is also coming up, during which community actions will be organized. Again, we are calling for citizen action to defend the safety of our communities.
(Translated from original French by Renewal Update)