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Ancient Rail Lines Cause for Safety Concern: Currie

October 11, 2014 9:40 AM | Columns

By Roger Currie

CN locomotives at Symington Yard in Winnipeg. (HANDOUT)

CN locomotives at Symington Yard in Winnipeg. (HANDOUT)

One of the most pleasant ways to spend a summer evening in Winnipeg is to watch baseball in the beautiful ballpark downtown.

Last summer, after the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, we suddenly realized as we sipped our beer and cheered on the Goldeyes, that a similar disaster could have happened with even more serious consequences, right in the middle of many Canadian cities.

A locomotive pulling about 30 tanker cars squeaked by the stadium in Winnipeg, over a bridge that’s at least 100-years-old.

This past week saw a spectacular explosion and fire and heavy black smoke, potentially toxic, when a CN train derailed near the Saskatchewan village of Clair, not far from Wadena. No one was hurt and a few dozen locals only had to spend one night away from home as the cleanup got underway.

The railway says the track was inspected just a few days before the derailment. The very same day, the CBC told us about many locomotive engineers who have admitted to routinely falling asleep at the controls of a moving train.

Just like Joseph Hazelwood, the ‘bag of hammers’ who piloted the Exxon Valdez onto the rocks in Alaska 25 years ago, these disasters are not supposed to happen, but they do. The train that derailed in Saskatchewan was operated by a crew of two. That is standard, and it’s not about to change. The volume of hazardous goods carried by these trains will change though. It has doubled in recent years, and it will double again, especially if major pipelines like Keystone XL do not go ahead.

Forty-seven people died at Lac-Mégantic. Keep a good thought for Martin Clavet. He’s the Quebec coroner who produced a detailed report on the death of every one of the victims. He made a long list of recommendations for improving safety. I must read them next summer, while watching baseball, and I hope the people who really matter are reading them now.

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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.