Tag Archives: Canadian National Railway Company (CN)

Nearly a year and a half later: Here’s why Gogama’s Makami River ‘will never be pristine again’

Repost from CBC News

Here’s why Gogama’s Makami River ‘will never be pristine again’

Small town pushing Ministry of the Environment to require CN to continue clean-up
By CBC News, Aug 10, 2016 7:33 AM ET
Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson stands by the bridge over the Makami River where an oil train burst into flames in March 2015.
Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson stands by the bridge over the Makami River where an oil train burst into flames in March 2015. (Erik White/CBC )

The fencing around the site of the Gogama train derailment is coming down today, as the clean-up from the oil spill has been declared complete. But residents say their local waters are still contaminated with oil.

Sheens of oil are commonly seen on the Makami River, over which the oil train derailed in March 2015, as well as lake Minisinakwa, on which the town is built.

People have also found several dead fish in recent weeks and wondered if it’s connected to the spill.

“I understand it’s never going to be pristine again,” says Gogama Fire Chief Mike Benson. “There was no sheen, there was no dead fish, there was no oil spill on Mar. 6, 2015.”

“So, we got to try to get it closer than that. Let’s get it to the point that there’s no fish dying. And I’m not going to die of throat cancer in five years because I’ve been eating the fish out of this lake.”

Benson said CN rail is willing to continue the clean-up, but has been told by the Ministry of Environment that the work is satisfactory.

CN has agreed to let more soil samples be taken from the site and be sent away for independent testing, along with some of the dead fish, at the company’s expense.

In a statement the railroad said that “CN recognizes that local citizens have identified areas of concern, where they believe further clean up should be done in order to protect human and fish populations. CN is today on the ground in Gogama, working with local residents to identify specific areas.”

Gogama derailment site
After a year and a half, the fencing around the site of the train derailment and oil spill near Gogama will come down and it will once again be open to the public. (Erik White/CBC )

Benson said he was surprised to find out over the last year and a half that the railroad was responsible for the environment testing, not the Ministry of the Environment.

“I can’t believe our government tells the fox to test the chickens,” Benson told a public meeting of over 100 people at the Gogama Community Centre, which ministry officials were invited to attend.

“Because that’s basically what they were doing. They were saying ‘OK, you got a mess. Tell us when it’s clean.'”​

Benson said Ministry of Environment officials are aware of the oil slicks in the water, but don’t seem concerned.

“We were going down the lake and we saw oil and he said ‘Well, just because there’s oil doesn’t mean it’s necessarily dangerous,” he said.

Ministry officials may not have been at the meeting on Tuesday night, but they were in Gogama the following day to take water samples on Lake Minisinakwa.

In a statement, the ministry said it “takes the concerns expressed by the citizens of Gogama and Mattagami First Nation very seriously and greatly appreciates direct reports from the citizens of their observations.  These reports enable our staff to respond in a timely manner to collect further information that can be used in guiding further action as appropriate.”

The ministry statement also said that further fish testing in the Gogama area is planned for the fall, but reiterated that the fish tested last fall showed no signs of contamination.

oil sheen in Makami River
Gogama residents regularly see oil floating in the Makami River and other waters downstream from the oil spill. (Erik White/CBC )

Band councillor suggests a protest to shut down the railroad

CN officials had planned to attend the meeting, but were called away at the last minute.

After expressing their frustrations for over an hour, the crowd erupted in applause, when Chad Boissoneau suggested that one way to get attention would be to “shut down” the railroad with a protest.

He is a band councillor in the nearby Mattagami First Nation and has headed up efforts to keep up in the pickerel population in area lakes.

“The clean-up shouldn’t be determined by what MOE feels is satisfactory, the clean-up should be determined by the community members and what’s satisfactory to them. Because we’re the ones that have to live here,” says Boissoneau, adding that oil has yet to be sighted in the waters by the first nation, which is downstream from the spill.

Several people from Timmins, which draws its drinking water from the Mattagami River downstream from the spill, also attended the meeting and there was mention of how these waters run all the way to the James Bay Coast.

public meeting
Over 100 people attended a public meeting at the Gogama Community Centre on Aug. 9 to express their frustrations with the oil clean-up. (Erik White/CBC )

Towards the end of the meeting there was talk of circulating a petition that Nickel Belt MPP France Gelinas could table at Queen’s Park and including these downstream communities.

Gelinas said until now people in Gogama were always hesitant to draw too much attention to the oil spill, fearing it would hurt the local tourism industry. But many lodges are reporting a drop in business anyway.

“There was always this reluctance to talk about it too much outside of Gogama,” she says.

It’s hard to get Toronto politicians to care about a little town called Gogama

“If you’re ready to sound the alarm bells, I have no doubt that the people from Sudbury will support you, the people from Timmins will support you and the people from everywhere in Ontario will support you if you’re ready to reach out and speak loud.”

Gelinas said she too has had trouble getting government officials to give time to the concerns of a small town called Gogama.

“If this environmental disaster had happened closer to Toronto, things would have been handled very differently,” she said at the meeting.

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Gogama fire chief asks for more than DOT-111 tanker phase out

Repost from CBC News, Sudbury
[Editor: Significant quotes: “This week, the federal [Canadian] government announced DOT-111 rail cars will be phased out sooner than expected.” …and “Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, said by 2025 no flammable liquids will be permitted to be transported by rail car.”  – RS]

Gogama fire chief asks for more than DOT-111 tanker phase out

Tankers that carried crude oil in recent derailments will be phased out or scrapped by 2025
Martha Dillman & Casey Stranges, CBC News Jul 27, 2016 8:57 AM ET
By 2025, flammable goods will no longer be permitted to be transported across the Canada.
By 2025, flammable goods will no longer be permitted to be transported across the Canada. (Nati Harnik/Associated Press)

This week, the federal government announced DOT-111 rail cars will be phased out sooner than expected.

DOT-111 rail cars were involved in the deadly rail disaster in Lac-Megantic, Quebec three years ago.

A similar model of rail cars transported crude oil in derailments near the northern Ontario community of Gogama — including two last year that spilled more than 100,000 litres of crude oil.

Although he was critical of CN and their handling of local derailments, Gogama fire chief Mike Benson said he believes rail companies and the federal government want to make it safer to transport goods.

“The financial aspect is what’s holding everything back here,” Benson said, “but certainly, CN recognizes that it’s in their best interest not to have derailments. The federal government certainly understands that.”

In March, Benson said that CN was keeping his people from seeing the derailment site during its investigation, which bred mistrust in the community.

And considering that his community has seen two derailments in a short period, Benson said that phasing out the rail cars is a step in the right direction, but other aspects of rail transportation need to be considered.

“I think the infrastructure, the [rail] track system, the maintenance that they’re doing on the track system, and I think they really have to look at the speeds when [the trains are] going through municipalities,” Benson said.

Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, said by 2025 no flammable liquids will be permitted to be transported by rail car.

Garneau said about 28,000 DOT-111 railcars are still in use, travelling between Canada and the United States. He said the cars may be upgraded, used to transport other goods or sold to be scrapped.

Trains coming from the U.S. will be monitored to ensure they comply with the new rules.

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Oil train safety concerns cast shadow over cross-border rail deal

Repost from McClatchyNews
[Editor:  Note the significant section on bridge safety – “In downtown Milwaukee, Canadian Pacific’s oil trains cross a 99-year-old steel bridge over South 1st Street that shows visible signs of deterioration. Some of beams supporting the structure are so badly corroded at the base that you can see right through them.  In Watertown, just west of the derailment site, the railroad crosses Main Street on a bridge with crumbling concrete supports embedded with its date of construction: 1906.”  – RS]

Oil train safety concerns cast shadow over cross-border rail deal

HIGHLIGHTS
• Merger would create largest railroad on continent
• Canadian Pacific, Norfolk Southern transport oil
• Derailments, bridges under scrutiny in Wisconsin

By Curtis Tate, November 25, 2015
Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific locomotives lead an empty oil train west at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 14, 2014. The Canadian railroad last week made public its offer to take over Norfolk Southern. The $28 billion deal, if approved by shareholders and regulators, would create the largest railroad in North America.
Norfolk Southern and Canadian Pacific locomotives lead an empty oil train west at Richmond, Va., on Oct. 14, 2014. The Canadian railroad last week made public its offer to take over Norfolk Southern. The $28 billion deal, if approved by shareholders and regulators, would create the largest railroad in North America. Curtis Tate McClatchy

WATERTOWN, WIS. – Concerns about the safety of crude oil trains loom over a proposed rail takeover that would create the largest rail system in North America.

Last week, Alberta-based Canadian Pacific made public its plan to acquire Virginia-based Norfolk Southern. The $28.4 billion deal would need to be approved by company shareholders and federal regulators, a process that could take at least 18 months.

The railroads are key players in the transportation of crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken shale region to East Coast refineries. Currently, Canadian Pacific transfers the shipments to Norfolk Southern at Chicago. The combined company could offer a seamless path the entire distance to the East Coast.

Though both companies have so far escaped the most serious crude by rail incidents involving spills, fires and mass evacuations, they are likely to face fresh scrutiny of their safety practices and relationships with communities if they agree to a deal.

In Wisconsin, the railroad has clashed with environmental groups and elected officials over the condition of its aging bridges. And in spite of calls from members of Congress and the Federal Railroad Administration, the railroad refuses to share its bridge inspection documents with local officials, citing “security concerns.”

“I’ve reached out to (Canadian Pacific) personally to try to get them to be better neighbors,” said Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis. “The response hasn’t been that good.”

Two Canadian Pacific trains derailed earlier this month in Watertown, a city of 24,000 about an hour west of Milwaukee.

The first occurred on Nov. 8 when 13 cars of an eastbound oil train bound from North Dakota to Philadelphia derailed and spilled about 500 gallons. About 35 homes were evacuated for more than a day. Then on Nov. 11, a second train derailed at the same spot as the first. Though no one was injured, the back-to-back incidents shook residents.

“If safety was really important, you wouldn’t have two trains derail in one town in one week,” said Sarah Zarling, a mother of five who lives a few blocks from the track and has become an activist on the issue.

THE FEDERAL SURFACE TRANSPORTATION BOARD, WHICH REVIEWS RAILROAD MERGERS, HAS BEEN SYMPATHETIC TO CONCERNS FROM THE PUBLIC ABOUT THE IMPACTS OF INDUSTRY CONSOLIDATION.

In a statement, Canadian Pacific spokesman Andy Cummings said the railroad was the safest in North America for 12 of the past 14 years.

“It is good business for us as a railroad to operate safely,” he said, “and the statistics clearly show we are doing that.”

In downtown Milwaukee, Canadian Pacific’s oil trains cross a 99-year-old steel bridge over South 1st Street that shows visible signs of deterioration. Some of beams supporting the structure are so badly corroded at the base that you can see right through them.

In Watertown, just west of the derailment site, the railroad crosses Main Street on a bridge with crumbling concrete supports embedded with its date of construction: 1906.

Cummings said both bridges are safe and that their appearance doesn’t indicate their ability to safely carry rail traffic. Still, he said the company is working on a website that would explain its bridge management plan and offer a way for the public to raise concerns.

“We do understand that we have an obligation to reassure the public when questions arise about our bridges,” he said.

Railroads carry out their own bridge inspections under the supervision of the Federal Railroad Administration. In September, Administrator Sarah Feinberg sent a letter to railroads urging them to be more open about their bridge inspections and conditions.

Addressing a rail safety advisory panel in early November, Feinberg said her phone was “ringing off the hook” with concerned calls from the public and lawmakers.

“They are frustrated, and frequently they are scared,” she said, “because the absence of information in this case leaves them imagining the worst.”

$340 Million – Amount of settlement for survivors of 2013 Quebec oil train disaster. Canadian Pacific was the only company that declined to contribute.

Much of the concern about the condition of rail infrastructure stems from series of derailments involving crude oil and ethanol. Including the Watertown derailment this month, there have been 10 derailments with spills or fires this year in North America.

In the worst example, an unattended train carrying Bakken crude oil rolled away and derailed in the center of Lac-Megantic, Quebec, in July 2013. The subsequent fires and explosions leveled dozens of buildings and killed 47 people.

Canadian Pacific was the only company among roughly two dozen that declined to contribute to a $340 million settlement fund for the survivors. The railroad denies any responsibility in the disaster, though it transported the derailed train from North Dakota to Montreal, where a smaller carrier took control.

While the railroad last month dropped its opposition to the settlement, it could still be in court. A Chicago law firm has threatened to bring wrongful death lawsuits against the railroad in the next 18 months.

Cummings said the company “will continue to defend itself in any future lawsuits.”

While it’s not clear what issues will ultimately decide the fate of proposed merger, the federal Surface Transportation Board, which reviews such transactions, has been sympathetic to concerns from the public about the impacts of industry consolidation.

In 2000, the three-member panel rejected a similar cross-border bid by Canadian National and BNSF Railway to create what would have been the largest North American railroad at the time. The deal failed partly because a series of mergers in the 1990s had created a colossal rail service meltdown.

Because of those problems, and complaints from shippers and members of Congress, the Surface Transportation Board imposed a moratorium on new railroad mergers. There hasn’t been a major rail deal since.

In a cautious statement earlier this month acknowledging Canadian Pacific’s offer, Norfolk Southern responded that any consolidation of large railroads would face “significant regulatory hurdles.”

But speaking to a conference of transportation companies in Florida this month, Canadian Pacific CEO Hunter Harrison sounded confident that shippers would not oppose the deal and that the decision to press forward was largely in the hands of shareholders.

“If the shareholders want it, it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just that simple.”

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