White Rock mayor upset by confidentiality agreements with rail companies

White Rock mayor upset by confidentiality agreements with rail companies

WHITE ROCK — Confidentiality agreements that municipalities are required to sign before obtaining information on the rail transport of dangerous goods is preventing citizens from knowing whether crude oil and other petroleum products are passing by their homes and through their communities.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said in an interview Tuesday his municipality signed the confidentiality agreement about a month ago and is still awaiting details on dangerous goods. Baldwin believes the confidentiality agreement — which permits release of the information only to first responders and emergency planners — is simply a way for railways to reduce public scrutiny of their operations.

“I understand their concerns, if they provide too much information they’re setting themselves up as targets of terrorism. But I suspect that any terrorist worth his salt would have figured out what’s going through anyways. So I don’t really buy that.

“What it really comes down to is they really don’t want people to know because they don’t want people to get upset. And if people are upset, it will cause them some difficulties and they just don’t want to be bothered with the hassle.”

CN Rail spokesman Mark Hallman said the railway “does not disclose the routes it uses to move commodities on its network for security reasons, and does not identify its customers or origins of traffic owing to commercial confidentiality.”

CP Rail’s Ed Greenberg confirmed, “we do not release car volume breakdowns or routing specifics.”

Despite concerns over the public’s right to know, Baldwin agreed to confidentiality because he believes that the priority is for emergency responders in his community to know what the trains are carrying, even though railways are not required to provide information in advance of movements.

“It’s of upmost importance that our first responders know what they’re dealing with when they get out there.”

Of the public right’s to know the ingredients in a box of cereal but not what’s inside a rail car travelling past their homes, Baldwin said: “This goes back many years. The railroad is king, right? That psyche has carried forward to modern day. They’re not responsive to the public. They really don’t care. They have a right to use their tracks and by God they’re going to use them. It’s the dollar Almighty that’s the bottom line.”

Baldwin has written Transport Minister Lisa Raitt to express concerns about increased traffic on the BNSF Railway line through his seaside community of 20,000 — including oil/petroleum-product cars — and is asking that dangerous goods be rerouted.

Transport Canada issued a “protective direction” in November 2013 that was agreed to by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, the Railway Association of Canada, and the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, department spokeswoman Roxane Marchand said in Ottawa.

The direction requires railways to share dangerous goods data with municipalities and first responders once municipalities designate an Emergency Planning Official, provide their contact information to Transport Canada, and complete a non-disclosure agreement. To date, 709 Canadian municipalities, including 60 in B.C., have registered their designated emergency planning official with Transport Canada.

“This is to ensure the information is only used by the person receiving the information on behalf of the municipality, and shared only with individuals within the municipality responsible for risk assessment, emergency planning and first responder training,” Marchand said.

On March 19, 2014, Transport Canada relayed the contact information from municipalities that met the conditions of the direction to railway companies. “Those municipalities have already begun to receive dangerous goods data from railway companies,” she said.

Claude Dauphin of Lachine, Quebec, president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, said he also had concerns about the public right to know but ultimately deferred to the opinion of the national fire chiefs. He noted that it is an important first step and that municipalities will continue to push for additional information from railways, include routing and more current information on cargo movements. “It’s not over, it’s not all settled,” he said, noting it is also important to have common standards with the U.S. “But at least we’re making progress.”

Under the federal direction, CN provides “yearly aggregate information, presented by quarter, on the nature and volume of dangerous goods transported by rail through municipalities,” Hallman said. In the event of an accident, CN provides first responders with information on the materials carried on the train. The information is carried in the locomotive cab, and is also available from CN’s Police Communications Centre.

There were 3,381 railcar shipments of oil in B.C. in 2013 compared with 1,183 in 2012 and 41 in 2011, raising concerns about a disastrous accident similar to the deadly Lac-Mégantic crash in Quebec.

Environment Minister Mary Polak said in Victoria that while the sharp increase in rail transport of oil is “concerning,” she notes the federal government is making progress on safety issues.

And while railways are a federal responsibility, B.C. is committed to a world-class, land-based spill response. “Our decision is to tackle it head-on,” she said. A provincial land-based intentions paper released April 25, 2014 outlines proposals for land-based spill preparedness and response.

The government seeks to create an industry-funded group to prepare for and clean up oil spills on land similar to a federally mandated body that exists for marine spills.

On July 6, 2013, a runaway train of 72 tank cars owned by Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway and loaded with crude oil crashed in Lac-Mégantic, killing 47 people and destroying half the downtown area.

On April 23 this year, Raitt announced that about 5,000 of the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tankers are to be removed from Canadian railways within 30 days. Another 65,000 must be removed or retrofitted within three years.

With files from Rob Shaw

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