If someone were dragging dangerous stuff through your neighbourhood, you’d want to know about it, right? Sacks of dynamite? Definitely. Bags of feral cats? For sure. What about thousands of train cars laden with oil? In April, councillors Josh Matlow and Adam Vaughan moved that the city ask the federal government to require freight rail owners to provide the public with detailed information about the dangerous materials they’re moving along the city’s rails. (Matlow recently chaired the first of what he says are regular meetings between MPs, councillors, midtown residents, and CP Railway to have “an ongoing dialogue” on the issue.)
The need for more transparency is underscored, of course, by the 2013 disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, where train tankers full of oil derailed and exploded, killing 47 people. The cars involved in that accident were DOT-111s, a thin-shelled tanker that government officials and railway companies have long known were prone to failure.
What does that have to do with Toronto? Well, the Canadian Transportation Research Forum says that there were times in 2013 when 70 per cent of tankers operating on CP and CN property were DOT-111s. So while the federal government has committed to either phasing out or retrofitting unsafe tankers, you can be sure that a few have rolled past homes in the Junction, midtown, or Scarborough.
Council is not trying to end the transportation of hazardous material by rail. They simply want the information that’s already shared with emergency response officials to be made public. Toronto residents can be NIMBY-ish about the realities of city life: condo towers, new restaurants, and homes for developmentally challenged youth. But the issue of rail cargo is more about transparency than mindless fear—it’s less “not in my backyard” and more “what’s in my backyard?”