With so many trains passing through, should we worry about an Ohio-style disaster in Toronto?

Last month, there were unconfirmed reports in some areas of Ontario and as far away as Montreal of impacts from a train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, that released a massive amount of harmful chemicals into the atmosphere to spread nastily across the land. 

The accident occurred on Feb. 3 when 50 cars carrying vinyl chloride and other toxic chemicals derailed in the small community, causing untold damage to people and the environment. 

The blunt assessment of hazardous materials expert Sil Caggiano for a local news report said it best. “We basically nuked a town with chemicals so we could get a railroad open.”  

When I heard about it, I couldn’t help but think about how bad it could have been if that had happened on the tracks leading straight through the city of Toronto with its millions of residents. 

Far-fetched? Hardly. Take a look at any train that flies through town and all you will see are black cars carrying oil and other hazardous materials. 

There have been other scary derailments in places such as Lac Megantic, Quebec, that drive the point home. And it is, quite simply: why are we allowing these trains to carry hazardous chemicals through the centre of Canada’s most populous area? 

The rail line that goes through the heart of Toronto derailed in 2018 during a minor incident in Scarborough. In 2017, there was another train derailment in Toronto. This time, it was near the corner of Dupont and Howland. 

What seems to have happened in Ohio is a simple mechanical failure. It underlines the point that it could happen and the consequences of an incident like what happened in Ohio would be devastating. And it raises the question of why we don’t send these trains around the city.

The federal government did decrease the speed limit of trains with more than 20 cars going through urban areas to a maximum of 25 miles per hour.

But that just does not seem near enough to me. Sure, rail is statistically the safest way to transport cargo like hazardous materials. Accidents are rare. But, as we know, they do happen, and they might be happening more often. Adding to the risk is the cuts to the labour force running the trains. The train in Ohio was 141 cars long. Why do you think that was? What could possibly go wrong when a conductor can’t even see the end of the train?

Why risk something like that happening here?

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