NEWS September 7th, 2016

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Train derailment sparks midtown calls for safety

Line cuts across parts of Leaside, Rosedale, Moore Park, Summerhill, Annex, Thorncliffe, Bennington Heights

Brian Baker/Town Crier WHERE CITY MEETS RAIL: The train derailment and fuel spill at Howland Avenue and Dupont Street on Aug. 21 has served as further impetus for midtown councillors to press the federal government for better safety on CP railways.

The Aug. 21 train derailment in the Annex has sparked renewed calls across midtown for the federal government to reduce risk and make public safety a top priority.

Leading the charge are councillors Josh Matlow and Kristyn Wong-Tam, who wrote a letter to Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau. They have joined 15 other councillors, including Don Valley West’s Jon Burnside and Mayor John Tory, to press for more safety measures.

The CP line on which the accident happened cuts across several midtown communities. They include Summerhill, Rosedale and Thorncliffe Park and the southern borders of Moore Park, Bennington Heights and Leaside.

In the accident, two freight trains side-swiped each other and spilled 1,200 litres of diesel fuel.

Wong-Tam said it was another alarm bell on the city’s growing list of concerns.

“The communities living close by have been very clear that they want greater transparency with respect to the goods that are being shipped through their residential communities,” she told the Town Crier. “They want better communication with the Ministry of Transportation. They want assurances the Transportation Safety Board has done everything it can to keep their community safe.”

CP Rail spokesperson Jeremy Berry said in an email they have not made a Toronto-specific statement. But they confirmed the accident was a result of driver error.

They will continue to support the Transportation Safety Board of Canada with its investigation and will encourage the implementation of Locomotive Voice and Video Recording (LVVR) technology as a preventative safety measure.

“The site clean-up, environmental assessment and investigations are ongoing and we will ensure the site is restored to the same condition or better as quickly as possible,” the statement said. “All notifications were made in a timely manner consistent with our emergency protocols and procedures.

“But we repeat: one incident is too many.”

Ila Bossons, Summerhill resident, and former Toronto councillor, recalled the 1979 derailment in Mississauga. That one resulted in the evacuation of more than 200,000 residents due to the explosion and chemical spill.

Wong-Tam and Matlow referenced the Lac Mégantic tragedy in 2013 as the catalyst for their growing concern. They have focused their demands on the removal of the problematic DOT-111 tankers carrying crude oil.

Many governing bodies across North America have recommended removing them from operation. Canada has set a target of 2025 for their complete removal.

Matlow said he couldn’t account for the lack of action.

“If a car company had a problem with their airbags or the brakes in a vehicle, you would hear about a mass recall that day,” he said. “Why on earth would they allow dangerous tanker cars to go through some of Canada’s most densely populated neighbourhoods, especially in the middle of Toronto?”

Garneau told reporters if the investigation uncovers lapses in safety, he will act swiftly.

Matlow said he was heartened by Garneau’s comments. “We have an opportunity now to be proactive. I don’t think governments, in general, always responds to accidents or issues once something has happened.”

The safety board is currently investigating 22 national incidents from the last two years, including a runaway train in Vaughan. The June incident had 74 CN train cars travel uncontrolled for five kilometres until coming to a stop at Bathurst and Steeles.

The letter signed by councillors calls upon the federal government to promote better communication between the rail industry and local communities; overhaul the Railway Safety Management System Regulations; expedite the removal of all DOT-111 and CPC-1232 tank cars; examine the impacts of reducing the speed of trains through urban areas; examine alternate routes for transporting dangerous goods and revise the current liability and insurance regime regarding train derailments.

“Even if I can’t legislate on it, the role I can play is advocate, and I’m doing what I can,” Matlow said.