Editorial — Too much secrecy over rail shipments

The high degree of secrecy surrounding what is transported through Langley by rail is completely unnecessary. It also could prevent  emergency officials from responding properly, in the unlikely scenario of a derailment or spill.

Rail transportation is one of the safest means around, given the fact that railway companies control their own lines and use a high degree of sophisticated approaches to managing rail traffic. There are virtually no head-on collisions, track is maintained to very high standards and those who operate and oversee trains must follow a myriad of rules and procedures.

However, rail companies’ insistence that local fire chiefs and emergency providers must sign non-disclosure agreements to even get access to what they have hauled in the previous year is overly secretive, and this is not even up-to-date information.

Transport Canada issued a directive after the July 2013 Lac-Megantic disaster, stating that rail companies must provide information to municipalities about dangerous goods on a “yearly aggregate basis”and also supply information about “any significant  change . . . as soon as practicable.” It didn’t say the information had to be kept secret.

Rail companies say that disclosing what is hauled to the public would compromise security. While this hasn’t been spelled out in detail, presumably they feel this information would aid terrorists or others with ulterior motives.

While this is unlikely, it isn’t impossible. A terror attack on a passenger train in Ontario was planned in recent years.

The types of dangerous goods being transported through Langley by rail are easily known, simply by consulting the list of placards which must be displayed on hazardous cargoes, hauled by rail or road. There is no need for secrecy.

The most important point is that fire departments and other emergency officials must be fully prepared to quickly deal with whatever could happen along the rail lines. That means there needs to be good communication, current information and transparency by rail companies.

The public should not be kept in the dark about what goods are hauled by rail, because it is their lives and property that are equally at risk in the event of any derailment or spill.

Rather than being secretive, railways need to be open and transparent with the public — ultimately, their customers.

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