Midtown Toronto residents are fearful that a disaster similar to the one that levelled Lac-Mégantic in rural Quebec could happen here, after learning that some of the CP Rail freight trains rumbling past their homes on a daily basis are carrying crude oil.
The rail line passes through the Junction, and midtown neighbourhoods The Annex and Summer Hill.
“It’s a highly dense cosmopolitan city. Crude oil has no business in our backyards,” said midtown resident Claire Kilgour.
“It’s astonishing to us that there hasn’t been more information, more noise about what’s happening,” added another resident, Nichole Anderson, who recently hosted an information session on the topic.
Coun. Josh Matlow attended the session and said he shares residents’ apprehensions.
“This goes right through … the heart of Toronto … (through) some of the most densely populated areas of our city,” the councillor said.
Matlow said he met with a CP rail representative, but the meeting did little to assuage his fears.
“The CP rep told me … that virtually all the trains that go through are completely safe. I don’t want to hear ‘virtually.’ We are not concerned about all the trains that are safe. We are concerned about that very rare and awful incident, when something awful happens.”
On July 6, 2013, tank cars carrying crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, killing 47 people and obliterating the downtown core.
One expert said fears of a similar disaster happening in Toronto or elsewhere are not unfounded.
“It’s an accident that’s not waiting to happen, it’s going to happen,” Roger McKnight, Enpro’s chief petroleum analyst, told CityNews.
“It’s basically a bomb on wheels. It’s a very unstable product, very volatile.”
CP Rail said it couldn’t reveal the exact number of tanks carrying crude oil through Toronto due to security concerns.
But in an email to CityNews, CP spokesperson Ed Greenberg said: “Safety is of the highest priority at CP. Each year, we safely move millions of carloads across North America, including through the GTA.”
Residents want the oil rerouted, but Matlow said he was told that wasn’t an option when he asked CP about it.
“They (CP) said it wasn’t possible,” Matlow told CityNews. “I said if that’s so prove to us that that’s the case. It’s about finding ways to be proactive and avert large catastrophes.”
The amount of crude being shipped across Canada by rail has skyrocketed from 500 carloads five years ago, to an estimated 140,000 this year.
Last month, as a result of the Lac-Megantic investigation, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada issued strong recommendations to improve safe transport of crude oil by rail. They include strategic route planning and calls on railways to carefully choose routes when transporting dangerous goods.
In the meantime, Matlow said he plans to continue meeting with residents as well as local and federal politicians to discuss the issue, and potentially put pressure on the federal government to make changes to how, and where, crude is transported.