Ever since CP Rail started operating an oil transload facility in central Estevan 2 1/2 years ago, there have been many lingering questions that began with the words “what if?”
What if there's a derailment? What if mass evacuations are needed? What if the derailment causes a fire or an explosion? What if it destroys a portion of the city?
We received an answer to one question on May 8, after four rail cars derailed Estevan, not far from the transload site. And while there wasn't a leak from the derailment, while there wasn't a fire or an explosion, and while hundreds of people weren't force to flee their homes, immediate action is needed to reduce the risk of a derailment-related explosion, fire or evacuation from happening in the future.
Estevan dodged a bullet. This incident could have been much worse. We can be thankful that the train was moving at a slow rate of speed when it derailed.
We can't eliminate the risk of derailments in Estevan. There will always be a miniscule chance of a train going off the tracks. The railroads are a part of our city, and they will always be in our community.
But the transload facility not only increases the chances of a derailment happening, and it adds to the possibility of catastrophic results.
This should be the warning signal to CP Rail that the transload facility has to be relocated to a rural area that doesn't have as many neighbouring people or businesses.
It makes sense, from a financial perspective, for CP Rail to have such a facility in Estevan. But it would still make financial sense for it to be in a rural area. And it makes more sense from a safety perspective for the transload facility to relocate.
CP Rail can operate with virtual impunity. We can gripe and complain about the railway and its transload facility all we want. We can send letters to politicians. We can circulate petitions.
Council can pass motions asking CP Rail to pull the facility from Estevan. None of it really means anything.
If Transport Canada is okay with the transload facility remaining in Estevan, then there isn't much incentive for it to move. They can ignore all the frustration and the vitriol from local residents, and all the requests to withdraw the facility.
We've now had two derailments involving crude oil shipments by rail in southeast Saskatchewan in the last two-and-a-half years. The last one, near Oxbow in January of 2012, resulted in an oil leak, but no injuries.
Thankfully, Estevan's derailment only resulted in a few cars leaving the tracks.
The next time there's a train derailment, we might not be so lucky.