Acetylene, benzine, bombs, carbolic acid, chlorine, compressed oxygen, phosphorous, propane, sulphuric acid... The list of hazardous materials transported by rail and itemized in safe-shipping regulations in Canada and the United States runs into the thousands. Since the catastrophic runaway train disaster that killed 47 people in Lac-M©gantic two weeks ago, however, the focus has been on the danger of moving crude oil by rail.
That's understandable, but not particularly useful. Crude oil is not especially corrosive or explosive compared to hundreds of far more hazardous materials moved by the millions of carloads annually in North America. And yet the safety record for hazardous-material shipments is 99.9977 per cent "arrivals without incident."
It's not a perfect record and, as seen in Quebec, when something goes wrong, it can go tragically wrong. But a response to that calamity is not to be found in hand-wringing over the efficacy of transportation of crude oil by rail. The response, as the federal Transportation Safety Board signalled Friday, is to prevent a recurrence of the Lac-M©gantic events. The TSB called for the implementation of two measures: that trains carrying hazardous goods not be parked on main lines, and a standard be set for emergency brake use -- either of which would have prevented the Quebec tragedy no matter what was being transported. That is a meaningful response.