10/22/2013 08:40 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Harper, Stop Putting Oil Industry Profits Before Rail Safety

Yesterday I tried to drive to Gainford. I wanted to try to assess for myself how much damage had been done because of the latest train derailment disaster.

Thirteen rail cars -- four laden with petroleum crude oil and nine carrying liquefied petroleum gas -- came off the tracks around 1 a.m. on Saturday. Three cars spilled their loads and caught fire. Fireballs were shot into the air with a boom so loud that it shook nearby houses.

I never reached my destination. The area was still unsafe and cordoned off. While the crude cars had been removed the propane cars still were still at risk of exploding while the fires still continue to burn.

The oil industry has been trying to use the recent spate of rail disasters to justify the push for more pipelines hoping we just forget about pipeline incidents like Little Buffalo, Zama City, Mayflower, Red Deer, six major spills this summer, Alberta's two-crude-oil-pipeline-spill a day average, and that pipelines pose their own dangers and threats.

While it's still too early to know what caused the latest train disaster in Gainford what we do know, is that pipelines aren't the solution and that not enough is being done by the Federal government to try to prevent and minimize future incidents.

For over a decade the Federal government has ignored warnings from transportation safety boards on both sides of the border about the unsafe nature of the rail cars Canada is using to transport dangerous goods. The warnings come because these cars are "spill prone" and tend to discharge their load on impact.

In addition to not heeding those warnings the Federal government is adding to the problem pushing for more petrochemicals to move by rail including a massive increase from the tar sands.

The Harper government needs to stop putting oil industry profits ahead of public safety.

Here are four things the Federal government should do immediately to improve safety (three of which over 50-groups called for the Harper government to implement following the Lac Megantic train disaster):

  1. Implement an immediate ban on shipping oil in the older, type 111A tanker cars that have been identified as spill-prone by the Canadian Transportation Safety Board;
  2. Give communities more information about what substances are moving through their communities, how frequently and what the risks are so they decide for themselves whether it's worth the risks;
  3. Slow down the pace of tar sands development (the major reason for the increase in petrochemical rail transport) until safety recommendations can catch-up:
  4. Launch a comprehensive, independent safety review of all hydrocarbon transportation: pipelines, rail, tanker and truck. This review should include public hearings and an examination of the role of deregulation and privatization in reducing safety standards.

The Federal government can't wait till the next disaster to act.

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