July 2, 2020

Winnipeg
19° C, Clear

Full Forecast

Help us deliver reliable news during this pandemic.

We are working tirelessly to bring you trusted information about COVID-19. Support our efforts by subscribing today.

No Thanks Subscribe

Already a subscriber?

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Editorial

CN has role to play in risk reduction

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files</p><p>A Winnipeg firefighter douses a brush fire.</p>

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files

A Winnipeg firefighter douses a brush fire.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/5/2018 (784 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Canadian National Railway says it will cover claims for damage when it’s proven one of its trains caused a fire. One can only wonder what such proof entails.

Security camera footage from a golf driving range on Wilkes Avenue appears to show a CN train sparking a brush fire on Sunday.

Driving-range owner John Wheeler shared the video with media, explaining, "I looked behind the train and saw all this freaking smoke back there. The train passed and I looked down the lines and it was all on fire, everywhere."

It was one of five blazes Winnipeg’s acting fire chief believes were started by a single CN train.

So how does CN react when told one of its trains may have left behind a trail of fires as it snaked through St. Boniface, The Forks and south Charleswood?

A statement released by CN says the company will cover damage for "legitimate" claims.

For people unacquainted with corporate legal-speak, that likely means this: we won’t pay up until forced to by a court.

CN’s inclination to litigate rather than accept responsibility is reflected in the caseload of its lawyers, who currently are defending at least three lawsuits in Manitoba involving damage from fires allegedly started by trains.

On Wednesday, a CN spokeswoman said reducing or rerouting train traffic through Winnipeg during high-risk dry periods is not feasible because goods must continue to be shipped on a 24/7 basis. As many as 40 CN trains roll through the city daily.

She did concede, however, that attention can be paid to vegetation control near rail lines and equipment inspection and maintenance in order to lessen the chances of train-sparked brush fires.

Winnipeggers have for years called for better public reporting of the concealed cargoes that trains carry through densely populated areas. The railroads shield such information behind a wall of secrecy, commonly claiming "proprietary business privilege."

In 2012, American railroad giant CSX published a list of materials carried by Canadian railroads. The list included chlorine, crude oil, methanol and propane.

But Winnipeggers who want to know whether such explosive chemicals are passing near their homes and schools should consider the experience of an Ontario group called Safe Rail Communities, which in 2015 asked Transport Canada for copies of risk assessments for all major railways and information about dangerous goods passing through communities. The requested documents came back heavily redacted and blacked out.

Alarmingly, it was revealed in 2014 that Transport Canada had waived safety rules for both CNR and CPR on issues such as brake inspections. The government regulator refused to disclose why it granted the exemptions, claiming such information is private.

Railroads are unlikely to put the interests of citizens ahead of the interests of corporations. It’s up to Transport Canada to force them to be more publicly accountable when it comes to such issues as starting fires and moving dangerous chemicals.

The public’s need to know such information — in Winnipeg and elsewhere across Canada — took on an urgent edge when the derailment of a freight train carrying crude oil through Lac-Mégantic, Que., on July 6, 2013, caused a massive explosion and fire that killed 47 people.

It showed that the worst that could happen can, indeed, happen.

Railroads should not be allowed to maintain public secrecy about their safety deficiencies. Winnipeggers might be inclined to think of Lac-Mégantic every time a freight train loaded with who-knows-what rolls through a crowded area such as The Forks.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.

To those who have made donations, thank you.

To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.

The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.

While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.

After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.

If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.

We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.

The Free Press would like to thank our readers for their patience while comments were not available on our site. We're continuing to work with our commenting software provider on issues with the platform. In the meantime, if you're not able to see comments after logging in to our site, please try refreshing the page.

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

By submitting your comment, you agree to abide by our Community Standards and Moderation Policy. These guidelines were revised effective February 27, 2019. Have a question about our comment forum? Check our frequently asked questions.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us