CN Rail far less safe last year

CN, whose trains run through Weston, was far less safe in 2014 than in previous years, according to the Globe and Mail. CN recently had two fiery train crashes in northern Ontario, and, like other railways, uses dangerous tanker cars to carry oil.

Canadian National Railway’s safety record deteriorated sharply in 2014, reversing years of improvements, as accidents in Canada blamed on poor track conditions hit their highest level in more than five years, a Reuters analysis has found.

Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) said on Tuesday that track failure may have played a role in CN’s three recent Ontario accidents, which have fueled calls for tougher regulation. The agency said oil unit trains, made up entirely of tank cars, could make tracks more susceptible to failure.

Transport Canada has proposed modifications to tanker cars that would make them safer by 2025.

Train crash in Northern Ontario should concern Westonians

Weston is, among other things, a railway town.  That is why we should worry more than most about railway politics and economics—and about crashes that happen far from us.

Last weekend, a train derailed near Gogoma, Ontario. Nobody was killed or hurt. But imagine for a minute what a crash like this would do in Weston.

CN Derailment 20150308 CN Derailment 20150308CN Derailment 20150308

Fiery train crashes and explosions are now quite common, and a direct, predictable result of government failures. Because of the enormous growth in natural gas and tar sands production, train cars are now transporting vastly more oil than they did.

  • A pipeline may have helped, but the feds blew that by blowing off Kyoto.
  • Regulation might have helped, but the Conservatives are allergic to government oversight—leaving rail companies to be, to a large degree, self-‘regulating’.
  • Community pushback might help, but communities can only guess about what is passing through them, because the feds made it impossible to konw.

And, as always, it gets worse.

This is not the first crash in Gogoma. It’s the second crash in a month. There was another fiery crash in Illinois. And one in West Virginia. That’s four train crashes in a month. All were carrying oil.

And it gets even worse.

The Gogoma train cars were not the DOT-111 cars that lead to the explosion in Lac Mégantic and the deaths of 47. These were improved cars. Nor were these cars carrying Bakken Shale oil; they were carrying tar sands crude. So—and this is small comfort—the crash in Gogoma is a kind-of best-case scenario.

 

 

UPX given bye on environmental assessment

You may be able to see the UP Express train over the next few days. Metrolinx will be conducting “extensive” testing as the train is readied for service in the spring.

Also, the provincial Liberals announced yesterday that they would not require Metrolinx to get environmental assessments for some stages of the electrification construction. This means that electrification may happen faster than it would have otherwise, perhaps starting in 2017.  (The funding, however, has not yet been approved.)

On the one hand, this is a positive development. It was treated as such by Laura Albanese our MPP, who told The Star,

“This is great news for our communities,” said MPP Laura Albanese (York-South Weston). “I will continue to advocate on behalf of all residents in Weston and along the Georgetown South Corridor for electrification to begin as soon as possible.”

By 2017, not starting in 2017 

On the other hand, this is later than had been promised by Glen Murray, the former Minister of Infrastructure and Transportation, and the announcement was criticized by MP Mike Sullivan’s office, who said pointed out that electrification was supposed to have been by 2017, not beginning in 2017.

Sullivan’s office also said Metrolinx  had promised that “the [passenger] trains using this corridor would be Tier 4 diesel at service launch in 2015. Now only the UP Express trains are supposed to be; the GO trains will not.”

 

Sullivan calls for rail safety. The Conservatives lie.

Mike Sullivan spoke in the House last week to draw attention the dangerous state of railway operations in Canada even after the Lac Mégantic disaster.

Sullivan said, poignantly, that railways were once the drivers of growth. “That economic driver has long since left my community”, he said “but the railroad tracks remain, and they are perilously close.”

Railways, he says, only began shipping crude oil in 2009, and it  has increased “500 fold” since then. In the space of five years there have been three explosive crashes in North America and 47 people killed. The dangerous DOT-111 railcars involved in that disaster remain in service and unimproved, despite almost 25 years of warnings about their safety. So while much has changed in the business, little has changed in regulation.

That makes me worry.

Do the DOT-111 cars, which are prone to rupture and derailment, carry crude? Dangerous chemicals? Poisons? Nobody’s talking. The Conservatives have protected the rail companies, who release information to the city only every three months. Even then, the city is forbidden to share that information with residents. We simply don’t know–can’t know—how dangerous the railway is.

But since Lac Mégantic disaster, there have been two other explosions and one near-miss. The cars, which have a “high incidence of tank integrity failure” (according to the TSB), remain unimproved because doing so would cost $3000 per car. (CN’s stock price, mind, has quadrupled since the disaster, and their dividend has doubled. Had they waited just three months to double their dividend, they could have paid cash to fix all their railcars.)

The cars are dangerous. The companies won’t fix them. The government is not just asleep at the switch–it’s passed out on CN’s rye.

So yes, we should worry a lot.

But it gets worse.

Sullivan raised a number of reasonable questions about sensible, changeable things. Why won’t Transport Canada answer the questions of parliamentarians? Who screwed that up? Why can’t ordinary people know about the chemicals being pulled through their neighbourhood? These are the sort of questions a populist Conservative government would get behind, from a philosophy that Conservatives love: civil servants must be brought to heel and the little guy knows best.

So Jeff Watson’s answer was particularly disappointing. Of course, he ignored the questions. Politicians do that, and it’s despicable but the custom. But then Watson lied. He said

the cause of the accident in Lac-Mégantic was that an employee did not follow the established rules… with respect to the application of hand brakes.

This vile. This is depraved. This is an insult to the tormented engineer and to the dead. The crash was caused by 18 different things ranging from money-grubbing to government failure. Those causes are only a Wiki away.

Had Watson wikied the answer, he would have seen that much of the blame is on Transport Canada. the same Transport Canada that Watson is now shading from any examiner’s light.

You have to ask why he’s trying to protect the guilty.

UP Express compared

The Star has a comparison of the UPX and airport express trains around the world. The UP Express, which will open this spring, will cost about $30 each way.

In short, the Star finds that the UPX compares favourably with the trains that Metrolinx would like it compared to (in Tokyo, Oslo, and London), but unfavourably to other trains in Vancouver, Chicago, New York, and Madrid.

The comments are (for a change) worth reading. My favourite:

What these comparisons show is that UP Express is the worst of both worlds. It’s not especially fast, thanks to the two intermediate stops and the fact that diesel trains accelerate much more slowly than electrics. But the fares are being set at a premium level, as if it were a genuine express like the trains at Heathrow or Arlanda.

UPX fares too expensive study says

69% of Torontonians think the UP Express is too expensive, and only one in four people think the train is priced well, according to a Forum Research poll released before Christmas.

The UPX will cost $27.50 each way for a ride between Pearson and Union Station.

The poll also found that only 18% of people are “very likely” to use the UPX. Another 24% of respondents say they are “somewhat likely” to use it.

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These responses, of course, are unlikely to phase Metrolinx, who have never said that this train is for people like you and me. The UPX, they say, is for elite business travellers (or, at least those elites who take public transit).

Steve Munro has weighed in on the UPX fares, and he is, as usual, unsparing:

The fare structure is, to no great surprise, not “affordable” in the sense of day-to-day travel for the distance involved. Metrolinx makes virtue of this by positioning the UP Express as a premium service in a league with other cities: Missing from this statement is the acknowledgement that many “world class cities” also have lower-cost routes to their airports…. Notable by their absence from comparisons with other cities are any North American airports because none of these offer a premium express service….
The mentality that claims Toronto needs to be “world class” by having a premium air rail link is the worst kind of boosterism that says more about the people whose careers depend on this sort of project than it does about good planning and leadership.