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Mayors want to weigh in on federal rail-safety overhaul after Lac-Mégantic crash

Crews work in the area of the derailed tanker cars in Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 14, 2013.


Canada's mayors want a say in new federal rail-safety rules in light of the destruction caused by the Lac-Mégantic disaster.

A small group of mayors from across the country held their first conference call Monday as part of a new working group on rail safety. Pauline Quinlan, the mayor of Bromont, Que., and co-chair of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities working group, said Ottawa needs to involve mayors because they see the conditions of Canada's rail lines first-hand.

Bromont is similar in size to Lac-Mégantic and is also along the rail line served by the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, the company at the centre of the July 6 derailment that killed 47 people and destroyed the town's core.

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"The rails go through our municipalities. We're able to see it. We're able to sometimes question the quality of it," Mayor Quinlan said. Still, she said Canadian municipalities understand the importance of these rail lines.

"The railway system is very important to develop our economy," she said. "I've not seen a municipality say, 'Let's get rid of the railroad and let's do something else.'"

The FCM working group issued a statement calling on Ottawa to respond to safety recommendations made by the Transportation Safety Board, which is investigating the causes of the disaster.

Also on Monday, the Quebec government issued a legal notice demanding that the companies involved in the derailment cover the full cost of the cleanup. The legal notice was sent to MM&A, Western Petroleum Company and World Fuel Services.

The federal government is responsible for regulating rail safety, but municipal fire and police officials are often first on the scene in the event of an accident.

Municipal frustration boiled over during the June flooding in Calgary, when a Canadian Pacific Railway train derailed, leaving six train cars carrying petroleum hanging on a partially collapsed bridge. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi told reporters at the time that it was a "constant frustration" for municipalities that they have no say or control over the rail companies that run through their communities.

"How is it we don't have regulatory authority over this, but it's my guys down there risking their lives to fix it?" the mayor fumed. "We have to have a serious conversation about this."

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Mr. Nenshi was chairing a council meeting Monday and was not available to comment on the latest push by the FCM for a greater say over rail safety rules.

Last week, Transport Canada issued an emergency directive that requires all rail operatives to have at least two qualified people on board when transporting dangerous goods. It also updated the rules related to handbrakes and securing unattended trains. The directive came four days after the Transportation Safety Board said it had identified two safety issues that required immediate attention.

New federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt met last week with several Quebec mayors, including Ms. Quinlan, to discuss rail safety. A spokesperson for the minister said another meeting is scheduled this week with FCM president Claude Dauphin, the mayor of Lachine, Que.

"The minister is committed to working with any party on promoting rail safety," wrote Ashley Kelahear in an e-mail. "The government of Canada has acknowledged that the Transportation Safety Board of Canada plays an important role in enhancing safety by identifying areas where improvements can be made."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More


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