Canada Midtown Toronto derailment should serve as a wake-up call

22:09  11 august  2017
22:09  11 august  2017 Source:   Toronto Star

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Human error is being blamed for a freight train derailment in the heart of Toronto Sunday morning that had crews scrambling to contain a diesel fuel leak. (Andrew Francis Wallace). “While it was incredibly fortunate no one was hurt today, this derailment should act as a wake - up call for the federal

Fiery derailment in remote northern Ontario serves as a warning that unless changes are made, densely populated areas might be next.

People watch workers at the site of a derailed CN engine near Bridgeman and Howland Aves., east of Bathurst and Dupont Sts. on Aug. 21, 2016. © Andrew Francis Wallace People watch workers at the site of a derailed CN engine near Bridgeman and Howland Aves., east of Bathurst and Dupont Sts. on Aug. 21, 2016.

The men guiding CP Rail train 235 through pre-dawn Toronto found themselves scrambling to get to work with less sleep than they had wanted.

On the night of Aug. 20, 2016, the locomotive engineer had gone to bed at 10:15 p.m., requesting that he be woken at 5:30 a.m. so he could join a train scheduled to leave the yard in Scarborough at 7 a.m. Instead, he was called at 3:15 a.m. and ordered to work just 90 minutes later.

His co-worker, a conductor, had it even worse. He was living in Smiths Falls, outside Ottawa, and was told to report to work in Toronto. He slept in his car for a few nights. On the evening of Aug. 20, he dozed in his car for 90 minutes before reporting for duty just before midnight. He hadn’t had a solid night’s sleep for days.

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"Having this derailment happen so close to home, certainly I hope it serves as a wake - up call to the federal government to accelerate their commitments on improving safety standards as we requested," he (CBC). Crews going over tracks after Sunday's derailment in midtown Toronto neighbourhood.

This, he says, was blatant when a Hindu grandfather, Sureshbhai Patel, was beaten up by police in Madison, Alabama, more than a year ago. Trump’s ban on Muslim nations and his devious immigration policies should serve as a wake - up call for us Indians.

The two men headed west from Scarborough at 5 a.m. Their train, which consisted of just two locomotives, passed through the quiet streets of Leaside and Rosedale to midtown Toronto. Fourteen minutes later, while travelling at 77 km/h on the north track, it rounded a right-hand curve and passed by a signal warning of a stop signal just ahead.

Seconds later, the crew saw an eastbound train — CP 118 — on the south track and didn’t notice immediately that the tail end of this 3,000-foot-long train was on a crossover linking the north and south tracks with its last cars still on the north track about half a mile away.

When the engineer on train 235 did notice what was going on, he hit the emergency brakes. It was too late. His train clipped four of train 118’s cars before the two locomotives derailed and came to rest near Howland Ave. just off Dupont St., and spilling 2,500 litres of diesel fuel. It was 800 feet past the signal ordering it to stop.

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Annex residents jolted awake that morning had cause to wonder what had happened on their doorstep. A recent report by the Transportation Safety Board provides little comfort that this was an exceptional, once-in-a-lifetime incident. Indeed, the board shows a sense of weariness that issues on its “watchlist” are not being dealt with.

  • It suggests that fatigue from unpredictable sleep patterns likely played a part in the accident and it notes that Transport Canada is not doing enough to deal with train crews operating without adequate rest.
  • Additional physical fail-safe defences have not been implemented to ensure railway signals are recognized and followed. (The TSB notes that technologies for ensuring that signals are following — some dating from the 1920 — have been implemented in the United States but are not in use in Canada.)

Transport Canada, which is in the midst of a review of the Railway Safety Act, needs to determine why Canada’s railways have made only marginal progress on safety in the past 30 years despite a succession of reports that said the system for shipping dangerous goods needs improvement.

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While the remote area where the derailment occurred meant it didn't threaten any communities, passenger rail service between Toronto and "Back-to-back fiery derailments involving crude oil trains should be an unmistakable wake - up call to our political leaders: Stop these dangerous oil

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The derailment on Howland Ave. should serve as a wake-up call.

The CP Rail corridor through midtown Toronto is the route on which tens of thousands of tank cars carrying flammable liquids, such as ethanol and other dangerous goods, are shipped.

Relocation of the midtown CP Rail line to a less densely populated area was first recommended in a royal commission report that investigated the derailment and explosion of a CP train in Mississauga in 1979.

But relocation, while it may assuage residents of midtown Toronto, is not an answer to the challenge of moving dangerous goods across Canada. Shipment by rail will never be completely without risk but there are a number of measures the government could mandate that would reduce this risk.

In the shorter term, for example, the phase-out of inadequate tank cars currently set for 2025 should be accelerated and better braking systems mandated. As well, trains carrying dangerous goods should be shorter and travel at lower speeds.

The authors of the TSB report are too cautious to call out successive governments for their inattention to rail safety but they make it clear that it remains a critical issue that urgently needs to be addressed.

Claire Kilgour Hervey and Henry Wiercinski are co-chairs of Rail Safety First (, which advocates for safe, transparent and accountable rail traffic.

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