Safe Rail Communities is a not-for-profit community initiative with a national scope. Since March 2014, we've been raising awareness about the transport by rail of dangerous goods, and advocating for safe, transparent, and regulated rail. Join us for an evening of comedy with our special host and Junction neighbour, Steve Patterson.
In August 2016, a CP derailment in Toronto's west end resulted in a noxious spill of thousands of litres of diesel fuel. Numerous queries landed in our inbox. People were shaken. They wanted to know how to stay safe, and what to do in the event of a derailment. Up to that point, our focus had been primarily on preventing derailments of dangerous goods. When we looked into possible resources regarding rail emergency preparedness, we found there aren't many that are easily accessible to the public.
As we began to research what residents in rail communities want, and what we could help create for them, we became aware of a grant opportunity through Transport Canada's Rail Safety Improvement Program. In April 2017, we were pleased to learn that our grant application had been successful, and that our proposed rail safety project would be funded in part by Transport Canada. As an incorporated not-for-profit, we must raise about $12,000 CDN, half the cost of our project, which runs until March 2019.
The main outputs of our project will be:
- A rail emergency toolkit for municipalities
- A rail emergency toolkit for First Nations
If you are interested in learning more about this project or our work overall, please connect with us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Our gratitude for the legal support of Ecojustice, Canada’s largest environmental law charity
In the last three-plus years that we have been advocating for safe, transparent, and regulated rail, we have been regularly surprised when contacted by experts, politicians, and the media, looking for information and answers to their questions related to rail safety. How did ordinary citizens become rail safety specialists?
In March 2015, we were contacted by Charlie Hatt, barrister and solicitor with Ecojustice. He had heard about our efforts from the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers, who had assisted us with our first environmental petition, submitted earlier that year. Charlie let us know that he was very interested in our work, and that he had the green light from Ecojustice to represent us at no charge, if we agreed. Hard to beat that rate!
When Sandra Gamboias from Ecojustice invited us this past May to share with Ecojustice donors what Charlie’s legal support has meant to us, and why we work as hard as we do, we were quick to agree. Below is the speech that we delivered on June 22nd, 2017 at that event.
I’m really glad to be here, and I’d like to thank Sandra and Charlie for inviting me to speak this evening.
My name is Patricia Lai, and I am a co-founder of Safe Rail Communities.
I’m also a mom of three beautiful young children, a full-time employee, and an avid runner.
I was on maternity leave in February of 2014 when an email from a neighbor alerted me to a news story about the train that exploded in Lac-Mégantic in July 2013, tragically killing 47 people. It turns out that the same train carrying volatile crude oil in unsafe tank cars had travelled right past our homes. We live on a street in west Toronto that runs parallel to the main CP rail line. This line runs right through the middle of Toronto.
I think I was kind of stunned at first. Lots of images ran through my head, images like the intense fires and huge black mushroom clouds of smoke I’d seen on TV the day after the horrible crash, and also the noticeable increase over the last year of black tank cars passing within feet of the small playground on our street. Then my inbox started pinging. Other neighbours were concerned, and when someone put out a call to act, I accepted. In one evening, a few neighbours gathered over beer in a local pub and developed a plan to respond to this tangible threat to our community. Safe Rail Communities was created in March 2014. I never expected the journey of the last 3-plus years.
I consider myself an average Canadian. I follow politics from the sidelines, I have a general distrust of politicians, but I’m not jaded. I vote.
I vote because I believe that my voice matters, that I can make a difference. But the moment that Safe Rail Communities started to raise awareness and press our federal government for answers on the matter of volatile crude oil passing through our country without any risk assessments and in defective tank cars, I realized how small our voice was. And this just made us angrier.
How could our government have allowed this? We expect them to protect us, but with explosion after explosion occurring across the US and in Canada in 2014 and 2015, our doubts grew.
We started with simple canvassing of local neighbourhoods and letter-writing to the railways and politicians. We got some media attention after almost every explosive crash, but advocacy is not for the faint of heart. We spent hours researching, writing, and reaching out to experts and potential allies, trying to understand tank car construction, the properties of crude oil, details of rail explosions of crude oil, rail safety and dangerous goods legislation, and any other pieces of the puzzle that would help us advocate intelligently and effectively. It felt strange to be educating federal politicians on a matter of public safety that they had the power to improve, but knew so little about.
It was a no-brainer for us. We’re not going to be able to immediately eliminate our reliance on oil, but the technology to make the transport by rail of volatile crude oil safer right now exists. It’s a matter of political will, and there just isn’t any when it comes to tangling with the railways.
Safe Rail Communities is a team of ordinary Canadians who champion public safety, and when we got our first invitation to appear before committee at the House of Commons in April 2015, we were buoyed by the support of Charlie Hatt, our wonderful lawyer from Ecojustice. Charlie had found us in March 2015 through our association with the Lake Ontario Waterkeepers who’d helped us prepare our first environmental petition in January 2015. Charlie pored over the Rail Safety Act with his keen legal eye to see if there was anything we could use. It saved us so much time, and his review and input lent so much credibility to our presentation in response to Bill C52, An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. We were subsequently invited in June to speak before Senate committee on this matter.
We were also really excited with Charlie’s support in preparing our first Access to Information and Privacy request in July 2015, and his invitation to join with Greenpeace Canada in November 2015 on a submission to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency, urging them to subject the Hardisty Rail Terminal project in Alberta to an environmental assessment.
Having Charlie’s support has been invaluable. We can do as much research as is humanly possible for ordinary people, but we will never have the legal knowledge to understand how to make our points meaningful or whether or not some legislative investigation is worth our time. To be honest, having Charlie in our corner has been a bit like having our own superhero in our back pocket. We call on him whenever, and he just understands what we’re trying to do, and completely elevates our work.
Safe Rail Communities is a registered not-for-profit. To be honest we don’t like to do it, but we have to fundraise to maintain our insurance, our website, and promotional material. We are very grateful to receive free legal services from Ecojustice, and it is truly humbling to have our work considered worthy of their attention and effort. In his first email to us back in March 2015, Charlie explained that ‘Ecojustice lawyers provide free legal services to groups and individuals in pursuit of strong precedents that protect people and the environment’. Yep, that’s us. We are stubborn, and on days when we just feel completely overwhelmed in this work, we remember that we have met people of Lac-Mégantic, and we just can’t let it happen again…..ever….
Thank you so much for your support of Ecojustice. It means so much to us.
Sharing our knowledge and engaging youth
As part of our efforts to raise awareness on the national issue of rail safety, we accepted two exciting invitations this year to speak to elementary school children about our work and experience as ordinary Canadians holding the government accountable with respect to public safety.
What a privilege to engage with such enthusiastic youth about all the channels we have to dialogue with our politicians, other community groups, and concerned citizens. What a gift to be able to pass along much of what we have learned over the last three years, and to learn in exchange what our youth are truly passionate about.
As another school year draws to a close later this month, please let us know if you have a junior class in the fall that might be interested in exploring how the federal government works with its constituents, especially as the 2019 federal election draws near. These youth might not be able to vote, but they certainly have a voice that can impact even the outcome of an election.
It's becoming increasingly concerning that our federal government continues to tinker with a system that needs an overhaul.
Canadians in rail communities across this country look to our government to act on our behalf, to protect us, our families, and our neighbours. Public safety must come first.
We strongly believe that it’s our government’s responsibility to set the standards for industry to follow in order to ensure public safety.
Tinkering with the system will not be enough. We need substantive amendments to bring about meaningful change.
It seems that the TSB agrees with us!
Transportation Safety Board News Release
February 16, 2017
TSB calls for strategies to reduce severity of dangerous goods derailments following investigation into February 2015 accident near Gogama, Ontario
Sudbury, Ontario, 16 February 2017 – Today the Transportation Safety Board of Canada (TSB) is issuing a recommendation (R17-01) calling for Transport Canada (TC) to develop strategies to reduce the severity of derailments involving dangerous goods. This recommendation was issued as part of its investigation (R15H0013) into the February 2015 derailment and fire involving a Canadian National Railway (CN) crude oil unit freight train near Gogama, Ontario.
On 14 February 2015, a CN unit train transporting 100 tank cars loaded with petroleum products derailed. It was travelling at 38 mph, below the 40 mph speed limit in place at the time. Twenty-nine tank cars of petroleum crude oil derailed and 19 of these breached, releasing 1.7 million litres of product. The crude oil ignited, resulting in fires that burned for 5 days. There were no injuries.
"This accident occurred at a speed below the maximum speed permitted by the Transport Canada approved Rules Respecting Key Trains and Key Routes," said Kathy Fox, Chair of the TSB. "The TSB is concerned that the current speed limits may not be low enough for some trains—particularly unit trains carrying flammable liquids. We are also calling for Transport Canada to look at all of the factors, including speed, which contribute to the severity of derailments, to develop mitigating strategies and to amend the rules accordingly."
The investigation found that the derailment occurred when joint bars in the track failed. Pre-existing fatigue cracks in the joint bars at this location had gone unnoticed in previous inspections. Once the fatigue cracks reached a critical size, the combination of the cold temperatures (-31 °C) and repetitive impacts from train wheels passing over the joint caused the joint bars to fail. These defects went undetected as the training, on-the-job mentoring, and supervisory support that an assistant track supervisor received was insufficient.
The cars in this train were Class 111 tank cars built to the newer CPC-1232 standard. Although this standard requires the cars to have additional protective equipment, the TSB determined that the speed of the train had a direct impact on the severity of the tank-car damage. Additionally, the lack of thermal protection contributed to thermal tears in those cars located in the pool fire, which led to additional product release. Consequently, the cars displayed similar performance issues as in the Lac-Mégantic derailment.
"The Transportation of flammable liquids by rail has been on the TSB Watchlist since 2014," said Chair Fox. "While stronger tank cars are being built, the current ones will be in service for years to come. The risks will also remain until all of the factors leading to derailments and contributing to their severity are mitigated. This is the focus of the recommendation we issued today."
See the investigation page for more information.
Safe Rail Communities is pleased to announce that back by popular demand is our Comedy Fundraiser.
If you missed this fun night out last time, this is your chance to find out what all the lively laughter was about.
On Tuesday, March 7th, we will be back at the wonderful 3030 Dundas West venue on Dundas Street West in the Junction with a great line-up of comedians.
Join us for an evening of comedy featuring Herb Irving, Katie Westman, Martha O’Neill, Tony Krolo, Johnny Gardhouse, Bryan Hatt, Laurie Elliott, Andrew Chapman, Karen O’Keefe and Jeff Elliott!
Tickets are $25, and can be purchased at www.saferail.ca or cash at the door.
We’ll also have another silent auction supported by local businesses. There will also be SRC swag for sale; including our fabulous new SRC tote bags
All dollars raised will be put towards supporting the work that we do as a not-for-profit to raise awareness about and advocate for rail safety in rail communities across Canada.
As always, if you have any questions or would like to reserve a table, please feel free to connect with us at email@example.com.
Looking forward to seeing you on March 7th!
The Safe Rail Communities Team
Ever wonder how many schools or hospitals fall within the Blast Zone? SRC has partnered with FracTracker Alliance to map these numbers in communities across Canada.
In August we launched the first interactive map is for the Greater Toronto Area. We're pleased to announce that Fractracker has created interactive maps for 15 Canadian cities, along with their surrounding areas. Just choose your city from the Bookmark tab (upper left on the map) and zoom in to see how may schools and hospitals are located in the Blast Zone.
Note: Blast Zone, schools and hospitals are not visible until you zoom in.
On December 8, 2016 representatives from Safe Rail Communities attended a conference organized by Bruce Campbell, former director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. The event was co-hosted by the law schools of the University of Ottawa and York University and was a terrific opportunity to learn more about rail safety and the impacts of Lac Megantic, connect with others and learn about possible strategies moving forward.
In the words of the organizers:
"This conference will address four critically important issues: 1) the impact of the disaster on the Lac-Mégantic community; 2) the ability of the transportation regulatory system to ensure that the transportation of dangerous goods by rail can be done safely; 3) the ability of the Canadian justice system to deal with the consequences of Lac-Mégantic and other major disasters, as well as the role of local authorities in the Canadian constitutional context; and 4) the implications of the disaster for the future development of energy transportation infrastructure and unconventional oil development."
For more on this important conference, please watch this video of the conference in whole.
It’s been just over a week since we held our very first Community Workshop on Rail Safety and Emergency Preparedness. We had a great turnout, and terrific participation. Find details of the event on our blog post, and watch the event in two parts:
The following items may also be of interest to you:
1. On Thursday, December 8th, the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa will host an important conference about the lessons of Lac-Mégantic. There will be a variety of participants in attendance, including residents of Lac-Mégantic, legal experts, and CBC journalists. Safe Rail Communities will also attend. The detailed program and registration form can be found here in English, and here in French.
2. More than a year after two explosive derailments of volatile crude oil in Gogama, Ontario, residents remain concerned about visible oil in the nearby Makami River. Over a million litres of oil was spilled into the river. In October of this year, more than 100 people gathered on Highway 144 in protest to CN’s cleanup. David Suzuki was recruited by the Ontario NDP, and recently visited the area. He called the situation a ‘tragedy’, and asked, “…who is fighting for Mother Nature?”
3. A few updates related to Transport Canada:
- There will be an accelerated phase out of DOT 111 tank cars. Transport Minister Marc Garneau said that by 2025, the transport of flammable liquids will not be permitted in these cars.
- Bruce Campbell, Visiting Fellow at the Faculty of Law (University of Ottawa), and former Director at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, explains why this acceleration is not enough.
- The Transportation Safety Board recently released its findings regarding the cause of a 2014 fiery derailment in Saskatchewan.
Want to Take Action and support all Canadians living along rail lines across the country?
Make a donation to support Safe Rail Communities in our unwavering commitment to hold our government accountable on the issue of public safety.
Thank you, and please be in touch if you have any questions.
We will be taking a few weeks’ break to enjoy the holidays with our families, and will back at work in the new year. All the best to you and yours.
Keep it safe,
Helen, Patricia, and the
Safe Rail Communities' Team
After the surprising August 21st collision of two trains carrying dangerous goods in the heart of the west end of Toronto, many residents reached out to us to ask for support in preparing for a rail accident or disaster.
Do you know what to do in the event of a rail accident? Where could you get up-to-the-second information? Where could you go? Should you leave your home?
In response to all of these questions and more, Safe Rail Communities and Christie Dupont Rail Safety Group (in collaboration with York University's Disaster and Emergency Management Program are pleased to invite you to a Community Workshop on Rail Safety And Emergency Preparedness on Saturday November 19th from 1 pm to 5 pm.
This event will be held in the auditorium of Christie Gardens at 600 Melita Crescent, Toronto, ON, and will include:
- A presentation by Interim Fire Chief Matthew Pegg of Toronto Fire Services
- A presentation by Boris Rosolak from the City of Toronto Office of Emergency Management
- An update from Sheila Murray of CREW (Community Resilience to Extreme Weather).
- An update on efforts at City Hall from Sarah Doucette, Toronto City Coucillor, Ward 13
- A summary by rail policy consultant, Greg Gormick, of the recent Toronto derailment and what can be done to mitigate the risks of future derailments
- An interactive workshop in which all participants will have the opportunity to discuss and identify gaps in the emergency preparedness of their local community.
- Launch of the MySafeRailApp, to be used by residents in emergency preparedness of railway emergencies (accidents or derailments). MySafeApp is a part of a collaborative effort between York University's Disaster and Emergency Management Program, Advanced Disaster, Emergency and Rapid Response Simulation (ADERSIM) & Safe Rail Communities. The project is called "Enhancing Community Preparedness for Rail Emergencie" and is, generously, funded by the York Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, Global and Community Engagement Collaborative Project Fund.
The primary goal of this community workshop is to create an informed and collaborative environment in which participants can create a toolkit of resources for their neighbourhoods.
This event is open to individuals and those representing resident associations or other community groups.
Please take a moment to share your thoughts on rail safety by completing our survey. If you live outside of the Greater Toronto Area, please indicate where you reside in the first question:
Light refreshments will be served.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We look forward to seeing you on November 19th!
Patricia, Helen, and the Safe Rail Communities Team