Going off the rails
Published Aug. 20, 2014
The Waterloo Chronicle has learned of two more train derailments in the City of Waterloo that were never reported to the region, a violation of proper safety protocols.
Michael Bignell said he saw two derailed trains on the Waterloo spur line back in March 2007 near his home on Waterloo Street. The first was just a few metres from his backyard and the second was at the nearby railway crossing on Moore Avenue.
He showed photos of the first derailment to the Chronicle earlier this month and said the public has the right to know what is moving along the city’s rail line following the disaster in Lac-Mégantic, Que. last year. He did not get any photos of the second derailment.
“With that massive train derailment in Quebec … I thought it’s kind of my duty to say derailments are not that far fetched,” said Bignell, who has lived at his Waterloo Street home since 1983.
“I think the public should be aware. Why? Lac-Mégantic. You want to know what’s flying by your backyard.”
Bignell said the derailments looked to be caused by a pileup of snow on the tracks that forced the wheels off the rail lines. Efforts to contact Wesley Logan, General Manager of the Goderich-Exeter Railway, went unanswered. GEXR is in charge of operating the track and was also the operator in 2007.
Phil Bauer, acting director of transportation for Waterloo Region, said there is no record of any derailments being reported to the region during the time in 2007.
John Hammer, who was director of transportation in 2007, said he had no recollection of the incidents either.
Bauer said the region has had an operating agreement with Canadian National Railway for at least the past ten years and it requires the region to be notified of any incidents on the spur line, which stretches from Kitchener to Elmira.
CN Rail, which subcontracts operation of the line to GEXR and is in charge of line maintenance, said in an email to the Chronicle it was not prepared to comment on a derailment that occurred more than seven years ago.
“CN has an unwavering commitment to safety and inspects and maintains its infrastructure to standards that meet or exceed all regulatory requirements,” said company spokesperson Lindsay Fedchyshyn.
The Chronicle has spent the past two years investigating railway safety protocols in Waterloo following a minor derailment near uptown in October 2012.
That derailment also went unreported to the city and the region, and none of the cars tipped and nothing was spilled. In the wake of that derailment, then-City of Waterloo Fire Chief Lyle Quan said the city and the region had reaffirmed their expectations to be notified when it came to incidents along the line.
Bauer also said he wasn’t aware of any other derailments in Waterloo since 2012.
Last May, the Chronicle filed an access to information request with the city after GEXR and the city refused to release a list of potentially hazardous materials moving through the core. That request was denied by the city last July and the Chronicle lost its appeal to the provincial privacy commission this past May.
The Chronicle has argued it is the public’s right to know what is being moved by rail through the city, especially after a runaway train carrying crude oil exploded in Lac-Mégantic last July, killing 47 people.
In recent months, many residents of Waterloo have come forward to express their concern with not only what the railways are moving through the city, but the condition of the tracks as well.
In response to those concerns, the Chronicle launched an independent investigation into the matter and photographed several of the hazardous material placards that identify what each car is carrying. Highly flammable liquid fuel and sodium hydroxide are just some of those materials.
Earlier this summer, the newspaper launched a citizen journalism project calling on residents to photograph the informational placards that are required on all railway cars identifying what materials are being shipped. The Chronicle is currently compiling a list of those placards.
Anyone with images or information on freight trains travelling through Waterloo are encouraged to email email@example.com.