BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — Since Monday’s train derailment in East Aurora sparked fears of “bomb trains” carrying toxic substances, the Genesee & Wyoming Railroad has sought to downplay the danger of the crash, stressing that no one was hurt and damage was limited.
But 7 Eyewitness News has learned that despite the company’s refusal to provide a complete accounting of the train’s contents, dozens of railcars that were pulled by the derailed engine were filled with flammable and explosive materials.
And since the railroad opened back up Thursday, even more cars carrying crude oil and propane have quietly rolled through.
“This was really a best-case scenario,” said East Aurora Fire Chief Roger LeBlanc said of Monday’s derailment. “It should have flopped onto Main Street. There should be a crater in the village.”
LeBlanc said the train conductor soon after the derailment approached him with a manifest of the cargo.
“He showed it to me,” LeBlanc said. “He didn’t give it to me. He had a death grip on that thing.”
The fire chief said the conductor told him the cargo included 19 propane tankers, between 8 to 10 tankers of crude oil — which has caused devastating explosions like the 2013 derailment in Quebec, Canada that killed 47 people — and at least one tanker of butane.
The conductor had “great concern” on his face when mentioning the propane, LeBlanc said.
“I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, this thing’s gonna go,’” LeBlanc said, adding that thankfully, there were no explosions because the conductor said multiple cars behind the derailed engine were empty.
A railroad spokesman on Thursday said 66 railcars were empty, including 15 of the 17 derailed cars. But 32 railcars were “loaded with a variety of commodities,” according to Michael E. Williams, vice president of corporate communications for Genesee & Wyoming Railroad Services, which runs the Buffalo & Pittsburgh rail line.
Williams repeatedly declined to answer questions about the contents of the 32 cars, other than to say that two of the cars were carrying lumber.
“Railroads do not share train manifests with the general public for security reasons,” Williams wrote in an email. “The train was carrying what was properly tendered to the railroad to transport under its common-carrier obligation. It is safe for your viewers to assume that the loaded cars in the train were carrying commodities that are integral to modern life.”
Williams stated that the train’s manifest was provided “to the incident commander on site, per standard protocol,” but both LeBlanc and Police Chief Shane Krieger said they did not receive copies of the manifest.
First responders like LeBlanc and Krieger said they came away from the experience thankful that East Aurora, with many wood-frame buildings and 19th century historic structures, did not have to deal with a major explosion.
“If it would have hit any of the buildings or the restaurant, it could have been an ignition point,” LeBlanc said. “There’s a lot of things that could have happened.”
Williams stressed that railroads are “by far the safest means of ground freight transportation – much safer than trucks, which are the alternative.”
Still, the transport of flammable cargo appears to be occurring on a regular basis in East Aurora and other small towns lining the tracks from Salamanca to Buffalo.
Just after 11 p.m. Thursday — hours after Genesee & Wyoming announced the re-opening of the track — 7 Eyewitness News witnessed a string of train cars roll above Main Street through the village.
The tanker cars carried the red hazardous material placards for propane and crude oil.
The federal agency overseeing the safe transport of hazardous materials released a stunning explanation of its May 11 decision striking down a Washington state effort to regulate trains carrying volatile oil within its borders. A state cannot use “safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth,” wrote Paul J. Roberti, the chief counsel for the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA).
The statement appeared in the Trump administration’s justification for overruling Washington’s oil train regulation, which was challenged by crude-producing North Dakota and oil industry lobbying groups. The Washington rule seeks to limit oil vapor pressure unloaded from trains to less than 9 pounds per square inch (psi) in an attempt to reduce the likelihood that train derailments lead to the now-familiar fireballs and explosions accompanying trains transporting volatile oil.
Roberti wrote: “Proponents of the law insist Washington State has a legitimate public interest to protect its citizens from oil train fires and explosions, but in the context of the transportation of crude oil by rail, a State cannot use safety as a pretext for inhibiting market growth or instituting a de facto ban on crude oil by rail within its borders.”
With this statement, PHMSA is codifying what has been clear for some time at the regulatory agencies responsible for overseeing the transportation of hazardous materials by rail: that is, profits take priority over safety.
Rail Industry ‘Pre-emption’ and Safety Under Trump
A year ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), PHMSA‘s parent agency, invoked the same legal argument, known as “pre-emption,” to overrule state efforts to require at minimum two-person crews for operating freight trains. As part of the explanation for that decision, the DOT‘s Federal Railroad Administration announced that it was adopting a policy of deregulation.
“DOT’s approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation,” wrote the agency.
A regulatory agency announcing a broad deregulatory agenda was shocking. However, this latest move openly declares that, while Washington state may have an interest in protecting its citizens from “oil train fires and explosions,” that concern should not get in the way of the oil industry’s ability to ship more of its product by rail through the state, apparently even if that increases the risk of oil train fires and explosions to Washington residents. This logic reaches a new level of prioritizing profits over people as regulatory practice.
On May 15, Pres. Trump designated @PHMSA_DOT Administrator Howard “Skip” Elliott as Acting @DOTInspectorGen after removing Mitch Behm from his position – raising concerns about conflicts of interest created by Elliott’s simultaneous roles as an agency head & Acting IG.
— Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure (@TransportDems) May 19, 2020
Historically, or at least, theoretically, government has based regulations on cost-benefit analyses, weighing the costs of complying for the regulated entities against the benefits, such as lives saved or accidents prevented, as a result of the new rules. Here, the DOT‘s new regulatory approach appears to weigh primarily the benefits for the rail and oil industries while downplaying the potential cost in human lives.
However, these industries did argue about costs to get to this point. As DeSmog has repeatedly documented, lowering the vapor pressure of oil below 9 psi is possible through a process called stabilization, which makes oil less volatile and less likely to ignite. Conditioning the oil in this way before loading on trains would require the oil industry to invest in stabilization equipment, which the industry has argued is not economically feasible.
In 2014, Myron Goforth, the president of Dew Point Control LLC, a manufacturer of stabilization equipment, put the situation in simple terms. “It’s very easy to stabilize the crude — it just takes money,” Goforth told Reuters. “The producer doesn’t want to pay for it if he can ship it without doing it.”
DOT‘s May 11 decision notes that “compliance with the [Washington] law can only be accomplished by (1) pretreating the crude oil prior to loading the tank car.” Exactly: Making the oil safe to ship on long, heavy trains through small towns and large cities requires stabilizing, or conditioning, before loading it into tank cars (just as the industry does before loading oil in pipelines or on ocean-going tankers, at least in Texas). DOT makes no argument about how companies could comply with the Washington law, outside of trying to avoid passing through the state entirely or using a different transportation mode other than trains.
A particularly telling clue behind the DOT‘s conclusion that the Washington law should be pre-empted is found in the commenters whose opinions the agency is highlighting: “In light of the infrastructure, equipment, and other logistical issues, the commenters have concluded that pretreating is economically infeasible or unrealistic.”
At an oil-by-rail conference in 2016, an API official described the industry’s attitude about the prospect of requiring oil stabilization for rail transport: “We in the oil and gas industry see this as a very dangerous conversation.”
“‘In Trump’s America, states are on their own to protect the health and safety of their citizens — until it bumps against the wishes of the oil industry,’ said attorney Jan Hasselman.” https://t.co/IErYvEIbgh
In December 2017, Trump’s Federal Railroad Administration repealed an Obama-era rule requiring modern braking systems on oil trains despite overwhelming evidence that these systems improve rail safety. Sarah Feinberg, former head of the Federal Railroad Administration, offered important context about rail industry opposition to that rule.
“The science is there, the data is there,” Feinberg said of the efforts to require updated rail braking systems on oil trains. “Their argument is, despite that data, [they] don’t want to spend the money on it.”
That seems to be the rule for overseeing rail safety under the Trump administration. If a rule costs industry money to improve safety and protect the public from oil train fires and explosions, the industry will push back against its regulators, who appear to be pushovers, especially but not exclusively under Trump.
The alternative of prohibiting oil transportation by rail, because it is apparently too dangerous and too costly to do safely, is never even considered.
Ignoring the Science
The latest decision on the Washington state case continues a trend under Trump to overlook robust science when regulating oil by rail. However, you might not know it from the comments of this decision’s supporters.
The North Dakota Congressional delegation opened its statement praising the May 11 decision with lip service to science: “We thank the administration for doing the right thing by putting sound, scientific evidence above partisan politics.”
And yet these statements don’t stand up to scrutiny. In my book Bomb Trains: How Industry Greed and Regulatory Failure Put the Public at Risk, I present the evidence that Bakken crude oil’s volatility is higher than other regions and that this factor makes a difference. This crude oil is much more volatile than traditional crude oil from Louisiana or Texas, and that volatility, along with other factors, makes it more likely to ignite in oil train derailments.
WATCH: Justin Mikulka, Sept 2015: The Science of Bomb Trains
As I noted at the time of its publishing, the Sandia Labs study is deeply flawed and does not study the actual issue of oil igniting during train derailments.
As for whether Bakken oil’s volatility is “unusual,” a Wall Street Journal analysis found in 2014 that “Crude oil from North Dakota’s Bakken Shale formation contains several times the combustible gases as oil from elsewhere.” These combustible gases are what give the Bakken oil much higher vapor pressure levels than most other crude oils from the U.S.
The combustible gases in the oil are natural gas liquids like butane and propane, which is why the oil is so volatile.
At the same time that the oil industry tries to say Bakken oil isn’t more volatile than other oils, it argues that Bakken oil’s value lies in these extra natural gas liquids. Stabilizing the oil by removing these gases from the oil not only would cost the industry money but the resulting oil would be worth less to the industry.
The DOT notes as much in its recent decision: “These higher vapor pressure hazardous materials, such as butane, ethane, and other natural gases, are deemed essential and valuable components of Bakken crude.”
The oil industry has no argument to make on a scientific basis here, only an economic one. Reducing the vapor pressure of oil by removing gases like butane and ethane makes it less volatile and less likely to ignite. That is established by research. But the industry has repeatedly argued that removing these flammable gases from the oil would make it less valuable, which is one of its justifications for not stabilizing the oil.
A Second Bakken Bomb Train Boom Could Be on the Way
The only things that have kept the estimated 25 million North Americans living along railroad blast zones safer from dangerous oil trains is the success of activists who have blocked new oil-by-rail projects and oil industry economics. Because transporting oil by rail is more expensive than by pipeline or ocean-going tankers, the industry moves much less oil on trains when oil prices are low.
Oil train protesters in Albany, New York, in May 2016. Credit: Justin Mikulka
With current oil prices at record lows in the U.S. and Canada, it doesn’t make economic sense to move oil by rail, which is good news for the millions of people living along the rails.
However, a current legal battle over the Dakota Access pipeline could make moving Bakken oil by rail a major mode of transportation, perhaps regardless of oil price.
A judge recently set a hearing to review the permitting process for the controversial pipeline, currently moving 500,000 barrels of crude per day. Depending on the outcome, that hearing could result in the judge vacating the pipeline’s permits, shutting it down and diverting all of that Bakken oil back onto the rails in a big way, at levels that would surpass the records of 2014. The Obama administration passed oil train safety regulations in 2015 in response to the fiery accidents and oil spills that coincided with the boom in oil train traffic.
The Trump administration has steadily worked to roll back the modest progress of those safety rules, with the last one, on vapor pressure for oil by rail, withdrawn from the rulemaking process the very same day the DOT pre-empted Washington’s vapor pressure rule.
Now, an essentially unregulated oil-by-rail industry poses a real risk to public safety and the environment. With the Trump administration shooting down Washinton’s rule and repealing previous safety regulations, the risks of moving volatile oil by rail are essentially the same as in 2013. That was the same year a train hauling Bakken oil exploded in downtown Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, and killed 47 people.
Congressman Brian Higgins is calling on the Federal Railroad Administration to immediately investigate and publicly report on the details leading to a train derailment in East Aurora on Monday night. https://t.co/og2s74xRzY
Today, Bakken oil is just as volatile — and dangerous. The trains pulling upwards of a hundred cars of oil have the same outdated braking systems. Regulators have no requirements overseeing train track integrity or wear (the two latest oil train derailments and fires in Canada were likely because of track failures). There are no regulations on train length. And while rail companies have phased in a newer class of tank cars, those cars have ruptured in every major derailment involving oil and ethanol trains.
The accident in Lac-Mégantic happened almost seven years ago. An early Wall Street Journal article after the accident quoted an oil industry executive who said, “Crude oil doesn’t explode like that.”
Which is true in most cases. But Bakken crude does explode like that because it is full of gases like butane, is highly volatile, and has much higher vapor pressure than most other crude oils.
While that doesn’t have to be true, the Trump administration is taking steps to make sure it is.
U.S. railroads push against oil industry demands for storage in rail cars
Reuters, by Devika Krishna Kumar, Laura Sanicola, April 9, 2020
NEW YORK (Reuters) – Railroads are clamping down on rising demand from oil companies to store crude in rail cars due to safety concerns, sources said, even as the number of places available to stockpile oil is rapidly dwindling.
Oil demand is expected to drop by roughly 30% this month worldwide due to the worsening coronavirus pandemic, and supplies are increasing even as Saudi Arabia and Russia hammer out an agreement to cut worldwide output. Storage is filling rapidly as refiners reduce processing and U.S. exports fall.
Globally, storage space for crude could run out by mid-2020, according to IHS Markit, and most U.S. onshore storage capacity is expected to fill by May, traders and analysts said.
However, railroads including Union Pacific and BNSF, owned by billionaire Warren Buffett, are telling oil shippers that they do not want them to move loaded crude trains to private rail car storage facilities on their tracks due to safety concerns, three sources in the crude-by-rail industry said.
The railroads are telling clients that tank cars are not a prudent long-term storage mechanism for a hazardous commodity such as crude, and do not want to put a loaded crude oil unit train in a private facility and potentially create a safety hazard, they said.
Federal rules typically only allow crude in rail cars to be stored on private tracks. There is no federal data on how much oil is regularly put in rail storage, but analysts said it is very little.
“Most federal regulations require rail cars loaded with … crude oil to be moved promptly within 48 hours. Therefore, federal regulations discourage shippers and railroads from leaving crude oil in transportation for an extended time,” transportation lawyers at Clark Hill LLC wrote in an article Thursday.
BNSF did not respond to several requests for comment. Union Pacific declined to comment.
Nearly 142 million barrels of crude moved via rail in the U.S. in 2019, representing about 10% of what is transported via pipelines, according to the U.S. Energy Department. Unit trains, made up entirely of tank cars, can carry around 60,000-75,000 barrels.
Even on smaller or mid-sized railroads, known as shortlines, there may be capacity constraints or insurance coverage may not be adequate, the railroads have said, advising rail companies not to store oil.
“It is arbitrary, and is happening at a time when it (storage) is an option being heavily considered by all companies that have access to crude by rail right now,” one of the sources said.
As of September, there was enough crude storage capacity in the U.S. for about 391 million barrels of out of about 700 million working capacity, excluding the strategic reserve, according to the U.S. Energy Department. However, U.S. stocks have risen by 32.5 million barrels in just the last 4 weeks, including a 15-million-barrel gain in the latest week, the most ever.
Crude-by-rail shipments were not economic when oil prices were high but are expected to rise as prices have plunged. Loadings out of the Permian basin, the biggest in the country, slumped to about 12,500 barrels per day (bpd) in January, the lowest in at least a year, before rising to about 13,200 bpd in February, according to data from Genscape.
Demand is falling so swiftly that rail cars loaded with crude may not be accepted by the time they reach their destination three-to-five days later, leaving barrels orphaned without a storage option, one trader said.
Rates to lease rail cars have dropped sharply due to the crash in oil prices, making them more attractive for storage. Lease rates for rail cars have fallen from about $800 per month to about $500, said Ernie Barsamian, founder and CEO of The Tank Tiger, a terminal storage clearinghouse.
Reporting by Devika Krishna Kumar, Laura Sanicola and Laila Kearney in New York; Editing by Chris Reese
My U.S. readers might wonder why I cover oil train news from Canada. Answer: Our Canada neighbors are important – we are of course, a global people. AND… what happens in production and transport of Canadian tar-sands oil is newsworthy “uprail” news for our west coast states. Canadian and US ports are lined up for export, and our refineries would love to receive the icky substance by rail.
My Benicia readers might wonder why I continue to cover oil train news at all – didn’t we successfully defeat Valero’s dirty and dangerous proposal in 2016? Answer: well, Valero is poised to buy our 2020 mayor and council elections. Who’s to say they won’t try for crude by rail again? Back in 2014-2016, Valero expected to win approval, and invested heavily in the necessary infrastructure for offloading oil trains. Last I knew, they stored the heavy equipment offsite here in Benicia’s Industrial Park. Has it been sold or moved?
IMPORTANT IN TODAY’S INTERNATIONAL NEWS…
Rail Lines Shut Down, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Still on Gidimt’en Land as Miller Meets Tyendinaga Blockaders
Rail lines across most of Canada remained shut down this week, RCMP were still a threatening presence on Gidimt’en land in British Columbia, Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller met with Tyendinaga Mohawk protesters, and a flurry of news coverage traced the widening impacts of a blockade triggered by a pipeline company pushing an unwanted natural gas pipeline through unceded Indigenous territory.
Over the weekend, the Tyendinaga blockade of the CN Rail track near Belleville, Ontario continued after the community concluded a day-long meeting with Miller. Blockades or demonstrations were under way near Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, at the Rainbow Bridge in Niagara Falls, and on the Prince Edward Island side of the Confederation Bridge, and shut down the Thousand Islands Bridge between Ontario and New York State for 2½ hours. Days earlier, a court injunction barred Wet’suwet’en supporters from continuing their blockade of the B.C. legislature in Victoria.
And in Toronto, a massive march snaked through downtown to the provincial legislature Monday, with Toronto police tweeting that drivers should consider alternate routes after protesters stopped for a time at the busy corner of Bay and College. “When justice fails, block the rails,” demonstrators chanted. “How do you spell racist? R-C-M-P,” they added.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the federal government was committed to “resolving the situation quickly and peacefully,” while maintaining that the rail disruptions must be settled through dialogue, not police intervention.
“We are not the kind of country where politicians get to tell the police what to do in operational matters,” he told media Friday, while attending a global security conference in Munich. “We are a country that recognizes the right to protest, but we are a country of the rule of law. And we will ensure that everything is done to resolve this through dialogue and constructive outcomes.”
Before his meeting at Tyendinaga began Saturday, Miller said he wasn’t sure he could convince anyone to shut down the blockade, but he was there to open a dialogue.
“This is a situation that is very tense, very volatile, there are some people that have been standing out there for days, so today is a chance to talk and have a real discussion,” he said. “All of Canada is hurting, the economy is slowing down,” and “everyone knows the reports about supply shortages, but we can’t move forward without dialogue, and that’s we’re going to do today.”
Afterwards, based on a recording provided by a meeting participant, CBC reported that Miller had asked the community to suspend the blockade. But that request was undercut by a call from Wet’suwet’en hereditary chief Woos (Frank Alec), who told the room the RCMP was still on his community’s territory. “I would suggest to you loud and clear that we want the RCMP out of Gidimt’en territory,” he said.
While the RCMP operation to clear several Indigenous checkpoints was over, the chief said the police were still on the scene and “continued to pose a threat”, CBC said.
“We want them out of there. We don’t want them there. They have a detachment right in the middle of nowhere, in their eyes. But in our eyes, it’s our territory,” he said. “We do our traditions out there. We do our trapping and hunting. They are out there with guns, threatening us.”
“Get the red coats out first, get the blue coats out…then we can maybe have some common discussions,” responded Tyendinaga community member Mario Baptiste.
“Obviously dealing with the context of the issue…it absolutely needs to be widened,” Miller replied.
“Tonight, we made some modest progress by opening up a dialogue with the people standing out there in the cold and doing so for eight or nine days,” Miller told media afterwards. “We talked openly, frankly, painfully at times, and sometimes with humour. There’s a lot more work to be done.”
Miller added that he would share the results of the discussion with Trudeau and the rest of the federal cabinet. “The underlying issues did not arise yesterday,” he said. “They’ve been present in this community for hundreds of years.”
Political scientists Gina Starblanket of the University of Calgary and Joyce Green of the University of Regina underscored that history last Thursday, in a Globe and Mail op ed that declared the death of the reconciliation process between Canada and Indigenous peoples.
“February has seen an explosion of Indigenous and non-Indigenous support for the current political struggle by the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs and their supporters,” they wrote. “Again, we are seeing a ham-handed response of both orders of government, delivered in justificatory talking points to the media and enforced by the RCMP. Once again, we have the police dragging Indigenous peoples off of their lands, in Canada, in the service of the settler state, which is as usual attending to virtually every relevant political interest—except Indigenous ones.”
All of that “despite the rhetoric from federal and some provincial politicians about the need to transform their relationship with Indigenous people—even though that little matter of land theft continues,” they add. “And Canada—in all its structural manifestations—continues its perpetual drive to eliminate Indigenous rights to land and self-determination, treating them as impediments to the national interest.”
News coverage over the last week combined front-line reports on the blockade with stories on the businesses and supply chains disrupted by the national rail shutdown. On Thursday, CBC reported that protests in Belleville and New Hazelton, B.C. had “prompted CN Rail to temporarily shut down parts of its network” as of Tuesday, with the lack of any train movement “crippling the ability to move goods and facilitate trade.” That same day, CN said it was “initiating a progressive and orderly shutdown of its Eastern Canadian network”, a decision that could lead to 6,000 temporary layoffs, according to Teamsters Canada.
“With over 400 trains cancelled during the last week and new protests that emerged at strategic locations on our mainline, we have decided that a progressive shutdown of our Eastern Canadian operations is the responsible approach to take for the safety of our employees and the protesters,” said CN President and CEO J.J. Ruest. “This situation is regrettable…these protests are unrelated to CN’s activities and beyond our control.”
On Wednesday, VIA Rail said it had cancelled 256 passenger trains along its Montreal-Toronto and Toronto-Ottawa routes, affecting 42,100 passengers. A day later, it shut down most operations. “Via Rail has no other option but to cancel all of its services on the network, with the exception of Sudbury-White River (CP Rail) and Churchill-The Pas (Hudson Bay Railway), until further notice,” the company said in a media statement.
The lack of rail access quickly cascaded across the economy, with business leaders raising alarms about the economic impact.
“Every day that it goes on, the damage compounds,” said Perrin Beatty, CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It is damaging our international reputation as a reliable supplier. It is affecting our supply chains around the world.”
Beatty told CBC the blockades had “severely limited the movement of perishable foods and other consumer items, grain, construction materials, and propane for Quebec and Atlantic Canada,” the national broadcaster said. “The stoppage has also affected the movement of natural resources like timber, aluminum, coal, and oil, while factories and mines may soon face difficult decisions about their ability to continue operations.”
“Every day we hear more and more from companies that either can’t get their parts or ingredients or components to market, or can’t get their products out. It’s beginning to pile up,” added Dennis Darby, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters, whose members typically load about 4,500 rail cars a day. “In today’s modern industrial economy, there aren’t as many big warehouses of stuff as people tend to think. It’s kind of in, out, and sell.”
Derek Nighbor, president and CEO of the Forest Products Association of Canada, said the disruptions had cost his members “millions and millions of dollars” in lost sales, with mills unable to get raw materials or schedule freight cars to ship finished products. Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, traced a similar impact.
“If the blockade were to lift today, it would have cost the grain industry over $10 million just over the last few days,” he said. “We have farmers who are needing to deliver product. They’re needing to sell it into the handling system so that they can get paid, so that they can pay bills and keep cash flow going on their farms.”
Karl Littler, senior vice president, public affairs at the Retail Council of Canada, listed personal hygiene products, infant formula, cleaning and sanitary products, and fresh food as items that will be in short supply if the blockades continue. “There is an inability to move goods cross country through the various choke points,” he told CBC. “It’s of major concern to retail merchants. It both interrupts the flow of retail-ready goods and hampers the manufacturing process for Canadian manufacturing.”
“Obviously, there are some issues if nothing is being transported by rail,” said Nathalie St-Pierre, president and CEO of the Canadian Propane Association. “They are talking about continuing the dialogue. But at the same time, and from probably everyone’s perspective, you have to lift the blockades. You can have the dialogue, but at this time, I think the point was made.”
But for campaigners supporting the Wet’suwet’en, there is historic irony but no coincidence in a nation-wide protest that targets Canada’s railways.
“It’s very historically significant because the project of colonization, as well as the extinction of the buffalo, was facilitated by the laying down of the Trans Canada railway,” said Nikki Sanchez, a member of the Pipil Maya Nation who was involved with a six-day encampment at the B.C. legislature.
Climate Justice Edmonton organizer Emma Jackson tweeted that this might be the only time she celebrates cancelled trains, noting that the railway was first built to “enable settlers to go and build their lives on Indigenous lands”, making it a fair target for pushback against a pipeline being built without the consent of hereditary chiefs.
“It’s also probably the best tool that a lot of folks have at our disposal, in order to really put pressure on the decision-makers,” Jackson told the Toronto Star, adding that it’s “mind-boggling” that politicians are focusing on the inconvenience resulting from the blockades. “If you’re going to talk about inconvenience, it is very inconvenient that you’re going to be removed from your own land, forcefully at the barrel of a gun.”
Sanchez added that Indigenous communities don’t take the blockades lightly, and they wouldn’t be possible without the support of non-Indigenous Canadian allies. “We have no interest in impacting individuals’ livelihoods,” she said. “We want a Canada that is upheld to justice.”
The Star documents the support for the Wet’suwet’en from many of the passengers affected by the rail shutdown in Ontario.