Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Why trains are killing Canadians

and why politicians aren’t allowed to stop them 

Image result for lac megantic
(Burning DOT-11A Tank Cars)

Marc Garneau announced this week that his government was going to start dealing with the issue of runaway trains. The issue he is referring to is the fact that during 2015 there were approximately 42 incidents of runaways, up from 30 incidents the previous year. While a few runaway rail cars drifting down the track doesn’t immediately strike fear in Canadians hearts, it really should. Here’s a couple visual aids to help explain why 
(A photograph that shows some
of the devastation)

      If these images don’t jog your memory let me remind you of the terrible tragedy that occurred. Approximately two years ago in July, an unattended freight train with 74 cars rolled down a 1.3% grade (not insignificant for a train as the max grade allowed is 2.2% in the US) causing many of the tanker cars to explode in the town of Lac Megantic, Quebec. The resulting disaster killed almost 50 people, and physically devastated the small Quebec town. 

After such a damaging tragedy, I should dam well hope Minister of Transport Garneau   would make stopping runaway trains a priority. After all as this article has already said incidents such as the one that caused the Laq Megantic disaster are on the rise. One of the other problems with the governments line of change, is with one of most daring, albeit mundane parts of the issue - the tanker cars themselves. 

The type of train car used for oil transport is Canada is overwhelming the DOT-111A Tank Car. Here’s a quote about the car’s safety features 

We can’t expect politicians to act immediately, after all the amount of infrastructure, cars, engines, track etc. that is needed to run a railroad is immense, and replacing such a large part of that infrastructure would be an insurmountable cost for any company. So when was this report, the one determining these cars have a much higher rate of failure than others available, released, i’ll take a sip of coffee and assume it’s recently and not that the Canadian government ignored such dire warnings for decades…

Image result for spit take
(This post is already getting pretty dark,
so i've tried to brighten it momentarily
with this photo)

Not only that, but 1994 represented the Canadian Transportation bureau bringing this to our politicians attention by citing and earlier American report from 1991.
So what the hell right ? Our politicians clearly know about this problem and have for more than 25 years, the issue is clearly getting worse, why is nothing being done? Who is tying our politicians hands on this issue ?

You are.
(The same "you" that made the cover of Time)

Canadian Politicians can say they want to fix the problem all they want, but the truth is they know, just as you soon will, that instituting the very solution to the problem of runaway rail equipment, would put any politician out of a job, ensuring they could never actually see the change through. 
So what is this magic solution ? Well if you’re about 60% of the population by my serviette-math (napkin -math for my non existent US readers) you might not like it. 

Now hold on a second, put down your pitchfork and give me a chance to make my case.

Canada moves quite a lot of oil, we are a rather large long country after all, and most of what we have (oil wise anyway, all the people reside in the middle) is on one side of the country. Because of current opposition to pipelines, we transport an alarming amount of that oil by rail. As i’ve already said, this is safety wise a pretty bad move, as far as efficiency goes, it doesn’t get much better. 
The basic process as you can imagine is taking a lot of this oil, confining it to a small tank, attaching that tank to a long string of other tanks, then pulling this with a giant locomotive across the country at an incline of no more than 2.2% - oh and occasionally the brakes on these locomotives don’t work, or are improperly locked causing tragic loss of life, a calamitous damage. Because of all this the rail is usually the last option for moving oil, but because of the political reality of pipelines that I mentioned earlier it has to be used in areas where safer infrastructure isn’t available. Rail transport in Canada moved the equivalent of 167 million barrels of oil in 2013, and about 1,307 Mboe (Million barrel of oil equivalent) from 2003-2013. During this period there was 296 accidents where oil spilled. Due to the nature of this mode of transport almost all of these incidents where spills occurred were outdoors. 

When you flip the coin, during the same period there were 1,226 pipeline incidents. While that number seems initially higher, the amount of oil transported by pipeline from 2003-2013 was a startling 24,909 Mboe. That means pipelines moved a little over 19 times the amount of oil as rail did. When you remember were talking about millions of barrels of oil here, this becomes pretty astounding. Now if you’re not already crunching the math, let me put it out there. This means per barrel oil transported by by pipeline there is a 0.049 % chance of a spill. By rail transport, of every barrel transported 0.227% or about one in five barrels leak. It is over 4.5 times more likely to have a spill if we move a barrel of oil by rail, rather than through a pipeline. This is not the end, because about 83% of pipeline spills do not occur “in pipe” or out in the wild where serious damage can occur. 83% of pipeline spills, happen in oil processing facilities where many safeguards are in place, and product does not make it to the environment. Compare this to rail, which as I already said transports most of its oil outdoors, and 75% of spills do occur directly in the environment with little to no safeguards.

These numbers and facts while startling, do not in any way compare to the images a Laq Megantic burning. Those images do their best to try to represent the true impact of transporting oil via rail, rather than the much, much, safer pipeline option.

No matter how much politicians like Marc Garneau say they will stop rail disasters from occurring, no matter how many safeguards are added, or dangerous tanker cars replaces, putting oil into little tanks and dragging it from one side of the country to another will always a terrible option. Politicians know this, but we, the public, with our heads so deep in the sand of bad environmentalism and pipeline hate, we have tied our representatives hands. 

Its time to wake up and do the one thing that will stop, the tragedies of transporting oil by rail, stop transporting oil by rail. 

note: most of the hard data from this report was taken from the Fraser institutite study linked here

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