A scathing rail safety report released last week has little impact on how the city would deal with an emergency, according to Brandon’s director of risk and emergency management.
Brian Kayes said the city’s role in a rail disaster is well-defined.
"If the train goes off the tracks it’s an industrial accident and the railroad company and the people that own the product are primarily responsible for dealing with the product," Kayes said.
The report, which suggests Transport Canada lacks the resources necessary to approve, inspect and maintain current emergency response plans, was commissioned by the federal government.
In the case of such an emergency in Brandon, the city’s first responders’ main responsibility would be to set up a safety corridor and protect the community from potential risks.
While first responders essentially act as ancillary support alongside professionals with expertise in the area of the emergency, it is the municipality that has jurisdiction to give ultimate approval over the plan of action.
Kayes said there is a simple reason municipal first responders provide support rather than battle on the front lines.
"An industrial fire isn’t a fire that the municipal governments and firefighters are really prepared to deal with," Kayes said. "We don’t have the equipment. Don’t necessarily have the training or resources to be able to do it. So what they will do is take a defensive stance and try to cool the area down so the fire doesn’t spread.
"If you have a large amount of chemical burning, the chances of a municipal fire department doing much more than protecting the corridor is pretty remote."
He pointed to major fires in Winnipeg at the Speedway International facility, where biofuels were stored, and the Sunrise Propane firm in Toronto, where a massive explosion took place in 2008 as prime examples of how municipal fire departments deal with industrial fires.
"(Local firefighters) watched both burn and that’s the only response they’re really equipped to take," Kayes said.
Houston, Texas, was the last municipal government to try to employ firefighters who could handle industrial disasters, but Kayes said the demand of new equipment, training and time is far too rigorous and expensive.
"The trains are carrying every chemical that’s made in Canada from the east to the west through Brandon, so you would have to have all the different hazmat suits, you would need different foams, and all the different training for each product," Kayes said. "It’s impossible to keep up."
Canadian National Railway spokesman Mark Hallman said the central issue is managing the risk of low-probability, high-consequence goods incidents.
The biggest problem is solving the systematic risk posed by DOT-111 tank cars, he said.
"The question of tank car robustness is central," Hallman said, adding that CN supports an Association of American Railroads recommendation to retrofit and phase out the older tank cars.
CN provides economic incentives so older tank cars, which are often owned by shippers or rolling stock leasing companies, can be replaced by newer tank cars that meet higher safety standards.
Hallman said 99.997 per cent of dangerous goods reach their destination without a release caused by accident.
The company has also taken steps to improve safety following the deadly Lac-Mégantic accident, which killed 42 people after a freight train carrying Bakken crude derailed and exploded in the Quebec community on a line owned by U.S.-based Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway.
"CN already has in place comprehensive emergency response plans and resources, including western Manitoba," Hallman said, adding that mutual-aid protocols could increase emergency response capabilities in the industry.
"Such an approach would help codify emergency response standards and expand response resources to better handle future rail incidents involving dangerous goods."
» Twitter: @CharlesTweed