Environmental risks of hazardous goods transported by rail

Petition: 371

Issue(s): Air quality, compliance and enforcement, human/environmental health, toxic substances, transport

Petitioner(s): Canadian organization

Petitioner Location(s): Toronto, Ontario

Date Received: 29 January 2015

Status: Completed—Response(s) to petition received

Summary: The petition raises concerns about the increasing transport of crude oil and other hazardous goods by rail through Canadian communities in light of the July 2013 Lac Mégantic derailment disaster. The petition asserts that the increased noise, vibrations, and diesel engine exhaust fumes from idling railcars is affecting the quality of life of people living near rail lines.

According to the petition, industry statistics project that the number of railcars carrying crude oil and other hazardous goods will continue to increase significantly and that the railcars being used for this purpose have been deemed unsafe by the Transportation Safety Board for the past 20 years.

This petition asks what the federal government is doing to study and mitigate environmental and human health impacts, including air quality in communities along rail lines. Among other things, the petition asks about studies that have been commissioned and/or completed to examine environmental impacts arising from the July 2013 Lac Mégantic derailment disaster and to quantify the true costs, both financially and environmental, of a catastrophic derailment in a densely populated area.

The petition raises questions about proposed new standards for tank cars and insurance coverage for railway companies transporting hazardous materials by rail. The petition is also seeking to clarify whether railways have enough insurance to cover costs in the event of a worst-case scenario derailment, and what the government liability is in that kind of situation.

According to the petition, Transport Canada’s rail safety budget has been cut by more than 20 percent over the last five years. The petition asks Transport Canada to provide details of budget cuts to programs and staffing for the department’s oversight of rail safety as well as any supporting analysis by the government to determine what resources are required to ensure rail safety in light of the increased rail transport of crude oil.

Federal departments responsible for reply: Environment Canada, Health Canada, Transport Canada