Run off the rails

Tragedies on railways very newsworthy; are any businesses able to benefit from the PR?

A train derailment in Port Hope

A train derailment in Port Hope

In North America, oil is most often transported via two methods — pipeline and rail.

Amid several contentious pipeline debates throughout the continent, one pro-pipeline development argument is commonly presented: ceasing pipeline construction will not decrease oil sands development. Rather, riskier methods of transportation will be used instead.

The degree of truth in that argument is debatable, but it’s no secret that a railway runs through Fort McMurray.

Anyone who pays attention to the news should be aware by now of the derailment tragedy in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, as well as the tanker cars full of petroleum that derailed over the Bow River, causing a Calgary bridge to buckle. Luckily, the rail cars were drained and lifted before any of the petroleum leaked into the river. There was also a derailment in Paris, France in the past week.

The inferno in Quebec was unprecedented in Canada. It was an extremely unlikely accident triggered by several factors, but it’s expected that an investigation and ensuing policy changes will prevent a similar disaster in the future.

For the businessmen deemed responsible, it was damage-control time. To try and save face for the train company carrying the crude load, Ed Burkhardt, chairman of Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway, told a Montreal newspaper that his company has evidence of tampering, but he stopped short of making malicious accusations.

Problems with train transportation are increasingly top-of-mind. It’s possible the recent rail-related tragedies are because of unmet safety regulations.

While nobody seems to be suggesting any of the recent accidents were intentional, the increased attention allotted to malfunctioning train incidents has conveniently made pipelines appear as an attractive alternative.

It can be hard to imagine that railway tragedies are being exploited for the sake of a pipeline campaign, but for one reason or another, railways are receiving a lot of bad Canadian PR.

Dan Walton is a reporter for The Valley Echo. He can be contacted at