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Canada’s railways dismayed by bias and inaccuracies in recent Maclean’s article

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) was disappointed by the biased reporting evident in the article “Are train companies railroading Canadian communities?” published in Maclean’searlier this week.

For more than a century, towns and cities have been built around rail tracks and Canadians have relied on railways to ensure the efficient movement of goods and people. Today, 75 million passengers and close to 70 per cent of all intercity freight and half of Canada’s exports are moved by rail – all while producing less than 4 per cent of transportation-related greenhouse gases. Railways transport everything from the cars we drive, to the food we eat and the fuel we use to heat our homes, making Canada’s freight rail system crucial to our lives and our economy. Is it hard then to understand why Maclean’s would suggest that “gone…are the days when the railroads touched our daily lives.”

The Maclean’s article also includes a number of factual inaccuracies and misleading statements about the transportation of dangerous goods by rail. First, the assertion that railways “embrace[d] oil transport” suggests that the industry had a choice in the matter. In fact, under the Canada Transportation Act, railways are required by law to transport any goods that can be legally moved in Canada.

While the article highlights the number of derailments last year, it ignores the broader safety trend. Canada’s freight railways have reduced the number of accidents on their networks by more than 30 per cent over the last 10 years, even though their workload increased by almost 20 per cent during that time. In addition, railways have been proactive in providing municipalities with information about the dangerous goods moving through their communities, and the industry’s new AskRail mobile application makes this information available to emergency responders in real time.

Overall, the Maclean’s article misses a central point: would communities prefer that freight – including dangerous goods and other products – be transported through their communities by trucks? Public opinion research conducted for the RAC in 2014 suggests that the answer is “no”: 81 per cent of respondents agreed that moving freight by rail positively impacts road safety, and 85 per cent of respondents agreed that dangerous goods can continue to be safely moved by rail.

The proximity between rail lines and residents has undoubtedly posed some challenges over the years, but Canada’s railways have taken a proactive approach in addressing the concerns of the public and municipalities. In fact, RAC and the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) created a joint Proximity Initiative, to prevent problems from arising between railways and residents, and to resolve any issues that do come up.

One success story stemming from this initiative was the City of Montreal’s recent adoption of the Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations into its long-term development plan – making it the first major urban centre in Canada to do so. Montreal’s plan stipulates setback distances and vibration thresholds, as well as safety requirements that must be met if new developments are proposed adjacent to main railway lines or yards. RAC hopes that other municipalities will follow Montreal’s example, as this will assist railways in continuing to provide safe, affordable and environmentally sustainable service to Canadian communities from coast to coast.



Sarah Mayes
Railway Association of Canada

About the Railway Association of Canada

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) represents more than 50 freight and passenger railway companies that move 75 million people and $250 billion worth of goods in Canada each year. As the voice of Canada’s railway industry, RAC advocates on behalf of its members and associate members to ensure that the rail sector remains globally competitive, sustainable, and most importantly, safe. Learn more at railcandev.wpengine.com. Connect with us on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.