If a neighbour was in the habit of moving dangerous stuff through your backyard, you’d demand to see what he was doing. It’s only common sense — but not if you’re GO Transit.
A Toronto Star investigation has found Ontario’s popular commuter service knows little about hazardous materials moving on its track alongside crowded passenger trains. Furthermore, it didn’t seem much interested in finding out until the Star inquired earlier this year about potentially toxic freight being hauled on GO Transit’s rail corridors.
Emails circulating among agency officials, debating how to respond, reveal an organization struggling with the fact that it simply doesn’t know details about dangerous goods rolling on its track.
GO moves about 187,000 passengers on its various rail lines on a typical weekday, but those same routes are also used by freight trains transporting undisclosed materials.
This troubling information gap is a symptom of a much broader — and unwarranted — secrecy shrouding shipments of hazardous goods in Canada’s urban areas. In the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which turned a town centre into a raging inferno and claimed 47 lives, people should be allowed to know more about toxic material moving on GO Transit track and everywhere else.
Under existing federal rules, railways must keep municipalities informed about the type and amount of dangerous goods shipped within their boundaries over the previous year. Big freight haulers, such as Canadian National and Canadian Pacific, are obligated to provide updates every three months, but this data on past shipments is only to be used to hone emergency planning and response. Cities must give an assurance that it won’t be made public.
Jessica McDiarmid reports in the Star that Metrolinx, which runs GO Transit, has hired an independent consultant to determine how dangerous goods procedures can be improved. That’s a worthwhile step.
And emails, dated in May, indicate Metrolinx officials are now trying to obtain the same information on past hazardous goods shipments that municipalities receive from the railways — so far without success.
There’s no excuse for such secrecy. Not only should GO Transit be told of these shipments, but the public at large should be made aware of them, too.