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Railways must disclose hazardous shipments to wayside towns: feds

Canada's railways must disclose what types of hazardous materials they ship through communities, so said the federal government last week.

Minister of Transportation Lisa Raitt made the announcement Wednesday in response to a year filled with catastrophic railway accidents — many taking place in Alberta.

The decree from Ottawa is to begin ‘immediately,’ with railways ordered to send shipment details to Canada's thousands of rail-side communities every three months.

Canadian Pacific operates two major railway lines through the Municipality of Pincher Creek: the Crowsnest Subdivision which runs from Lethbridge to the Alberta/B.C. border, and the Pecten Subdivision south from Brocket to the Shell Waterton gas plant.

Response to the announcement has been mixed.

Pincher Creek fire chief Dave Cox told the Echo that while the move may improve safety, it won’t particularly be of much help on the scene of a railway accident.

“They will tell us what they’ve transported in the past three months, but it won’t be current,” Cox said.

“This information won’t be of much value from a responder’s point of view, but it will be from a pre-incident point of view because we’ll know what they’re carrying.”

He explained that the new rules will only require railways to give a general overview of what is being hauled through town — not a train-by-train breakdown of what is being carried.

Currently, scene commanders either obtain the train’s shipping manifest from the conductor in the locomotive, or by contacting CP'’s network management centre in Calgary.

The Crowsnest subdivision is a busy 'southern main line' for Canadian Pacific, handling around 30 trains a day that carryy everything from coal, grains and potash to more dangerous goods such as molten sulphur, petroleum, natural gas and chemicals.

Cox said railway emergencies are a large part of Pincher Creek's emergency management protocol, which also outlines procedures outlining potential incidents involving the area's three main transportation networks: roads, rails and pipelines.

The Pincher Creek fire department holds regular training sessions on dealing with responding to hazardous material incidents, including common materials carried by the railway.

Cox said the real benefit from the new policy will be to get a better idea of the goods transported through the municipality, so his teams are better prepared to deal with potential emergencies.

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