Taking the Oil Burden Off the Rails: Currie

By Roger Currie

Lots of news about railways this past week, and none of it particularly good. The mere threat of back-to-work legislation was enough to get the Teamsters union to accept binding arbitration, ending a very brief strike by Canadian Pacific engineers.

Grain is moving better this winter, but there are problems shipping it to the U.S. Farm groups say they have to battle for carrying capacity with crude oil — surprise surprise. Regina is the latest Canadian city to wake up to the fact that the number of tanker cars moving through town is growing very rapidly, and most of us have no idea how close we might be to having to get out of town for a few days when they run off the tracks.

On Valentine’s Day, a CN train hauling oil from the tar sands, derailed in a remote area near Sudbury. Seven of the tankers caught fire, but almost no one noticed because it was in a frozen wilderness, and there were no TV crews around. A couple of days later, there was more attention paid in West Virginia when portions of an oil train derailed, causing huge fireballs and threatening the local water supply.

The only alternative to running trains carrying crude oil and other petroleum products is sending the product through pipelines, but right now that’s just not on. Keystone XL, Energy East and Northern Gateway are just three of the bigger pipeline projects that remain hopelessly stalled. If they were approved tomorrow, it would still be years before they would take a substantial portion of the carrying load off the railways.

Exactly 25 years ago, the sky was pitch black near Hagersville, Ontario. More than 12 million old tires were burning. It was an event that galvanized the enironmental movement. Tires are now a product that are recycled much more effectively than they were back then. How we all wish that the problem with oil and trains could be solved that easily.

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Roger Currie is a writer, storyteller, voice for hire, observer of life on the Canadian prairies, and can be heard on CJNU 93.7FM in Winnipeg.