train fire

Scary train fire in busy Ontario city renews concern about Toronto’s rail traffic

Local councillor calls for improved rail safety measures across the city

Over the weekend in London, Ontario, a Canadian Pacific Kansas City Limited train passed through the city engulfed in flames. Residents, accustomed to seeing trains along their routes, were shocked as several train cars blazed.

Late Sunday night, the incident drew 28 firefighters from multiple crews to extinguish the flames. Videos shared on social media showed fire and smoke billowing into the night sky as the train continued its journey, eventually stopping at a crossing near Richmond and Pall Mall streets.

The fire involved five railcars carrying old wooden railway ties and nobody was hurt in the incident. But it was a reminder that trains running through the middle of major urban centres are a risk, especially considering the main cargo is often oil.

In the past, there have been regular renewed call to address how dangerous goods such as oil are transported by rail through densely populated urban areas such as Toronto.

Streets of Toronto most recently covered this issue in 2020 when Toronto councillor Josh Matlow was sounding the proverbial alarm saying that the federal government’s latest move, to slow down trains moving dangerous goods through cities, wasn’t enough. Not even close.

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There are hundreds of thousands of barrels transported by rain in Canada as the trains have become de facto backdoor alternatives to pipelines that require little public input or protest.

The rail line that goes through the heart of Toronto also travels directly through Matlow’s midtown ward. It was along this rail line, further east in Scarborough, where there was a derailment on Nov. 11, 2018.

Leader of Safe Rail Communities
Helen Vassilakos, co-founders of the Toronto group Safe Rail Communities

Nobody was hurt in the incident, but it did serve as a reminder of the presence of trains carrying dangerous and potentially explosive materials through the middle of Canada’s most populous city.



In Saskatchewan, 33 cars derailing sparking a fire in the same rural area where more than 1.5 million barrels of oil leaked into the environment after a derailment last December.



The latest incident resulted in MP Marc Garneau issuing a federal order to decrease the speed limit of trains with more than 20 cars going through urban areas to a maximum of 25 miles per hour, half the current Transport Canada regulations.



Although news of the speed change is welcome, in a CBC interview, Coun. Matlow said more needed to be done.

In 2017, there was another train derailment in Toronto. This time, it was near the corner of Dupont and Howland — one of the fastest growing neighbourhoods of the city. Right along the Dupont rail corridor, there is condo application after condo application. It is this new reality that prompted local residents to band together to form the advocacy group Safe Rail Communities to lobby for serious improvements in rail safety, including getting rid of the most dangerous types of rail cars.

“It’s only a matter of time before something happens,” said Helen Vassilakos, one of the co-founders of the Toronto group Safe Rail Communities, in a previous story on TRNTO. “The government is sort of tinkering with a system that needs a complete overhaul.”