Lac-Mégantic report skims surface of deep problems – by Greg Gormick (Toronto Star – August 22, 2014)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

Greg Gormick is a Toronto transportation writer and policy adviser. His clients have included CN, CP, VIA and numerous elected officials and government transportation agencies.

The report of the Transportation Safety Board of Canada on the Lac-Mégantic disaster blames “systemic problems” for the fourth deadliest accident in nearly two centuries of Canadian railroading. Those problems are more deeply rooted than even the TSB indicates.

As an arm’s-length agency, the TSB isn’t controlled by politicians and doesn’t bow to any master except public safety. But it does not play a public policy role. That’s in the hands of politicians, backed by their advisers and ministry staff.

It is at that level where blame must be placed. The Lac-Mégantic tragedy can be traced to decades of policy and investment failures resulting from unbridled faith in deregulation and competition as the guiding rules of rail legislation and funding. The biggest culprit is the 1985 transportation act, which the Mulroney government billed as “legislative change which will free Canada’s transportation system from the burden of excessive economic regulation.”

That it did. But it went further by eliminating most of the public interest tests contained in the previous acts, which applied both commercial and public policy requirements to all federally regulated transportation. The 1985 act was based on the profitability test for the regulation of our system, particularly rail.

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Mine Tales: Mining railroads overcame obstacles – by William Ascarza (Arizona Daily Star – August 3, 2014)

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at

Created in 1910, the Tucson-Nogales Railroad supplemented a line established 20 years prior between Nogales and Guaymas.

At an elevation of 4,613 feet, Dragoon Railroad station — the highest point on the Southern Pacific line between Los Angeles and El Paso — also served as the junction of the Johnson, Dragoon and Northern Railroad.

The railroad supplanted the freight wagon and stagecoach as did its method of power generation. Steam, electric and diesel locomotives were employed in Arizona history for mining, passenger transport and irrigation projects for agriculture.

Standard, narrow and baby railroad gauges used at the mines in Arizona were based upon the width of the track: standard gauge (56ƒ inches), narrow gauge (less than 56ƒ inches) and baby gauge (20 inches). Standard-gauge railroads in Arizona became dominant in the early 20th century, though many narrow gauge railroads continued to service the mines.

Challenges facing railroads included rockslides, floods, Indian raids and steep gradients. In 1910, the Arizona Eastern Railroad connected the eight miles between Winkelman and Christmas.

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Mine Tales: Railroads spurred mining’s growth in Arizona – by William Ascarza (Arizona Daily Star – July 27, 2014)

William Ascarza is an archivist, historian and author. Email him at

Railroad transportation proved indispensable to the development of the mining industry in Arizona, connecting it to lucrative markets in California and the Eastern states.

The arrival of the “iron horse” established towns and injected capital to advance mining interests through delivery of equipment and supplies while providing ease of ore transport to distant markets for refinement and profit.

Early talk of involving rail transportation in Arizona dates to shortly after the end of the Mexican-American War, when Congress financed surveys with the intention of establishing transcontinental railroad lines through what was then part of New Mexico Territory. Euphoric Manifest Destiny aspirations of the late 1850s included a railroad connecting mining operations around Tubac to Guaymas, Mexico.

This connection was deemed essential by William Wrightson, superintendent of the Santa Rita Mining Co.

Attempts to annex Sonora, Mexico, including a final expedition led by Henry Crabb in 1857, resulted in failure, as was the proposed rail line at the time. The Civil War, coupled with lack of financing, hindered rail in Arizona for the next two decades.

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Lax safety measures to blame for Lac-Mégantic tragedy, safety board says – by Allan Woods (Toronto Star – August 20, 2014)

The Toronto Star has the largest circulation in Canada. The paper has an enormous impact on federal and Ontario politics as well as shaping public opinion.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada identified 18 distinct factors that led to the Lac-Mégantic rail crash, including mechanical problems, unsuitable tank cars carrying crude oil, the cost-conscious rail firm and human error.

MONTREAL — Blame a rule-breaking rail company, blame ineffective train inspectors, but don’t blame the federal government for the deadly Lac-Mégantic train disaster, says Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

In the wake of a scathing report into the July 2013 derailment that killed 47 people in the Quebec town, Raitt pointed the finger at three employees of the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic railway now charged with criminal negligence, and referred questions about lapses leading to the accident to bureaucrats under her command.

“We need to remember that in terms of safety, the government puts the rules in place. The companies are expected to follow the rules,” Raitt said in Ottawa. “The company did not follow the rules and that’s a very important fact here too.”

The Transportation Safety Board’s definitive account of the incident said the crash was caused by a marginal rail company that put profits before safety during more than a decade in business.

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Australian state approves $2 bln rail line for Adani coal project – by Sonali Paul (Reuters India – August 14, 2014)

MELBOURNE – Aug 14 (Reuters) – India’s Adani Mining has won state approval to build a rail line for its $15 billion Carmichael coal project in Australia, it said on Thursday, bringing it a step closer towards making a final decision on whether to go ahead with the massive scheme.

The state of Queensland approved the A$2.2 billion ($2 billion) North Galilee Basin Rail project, a 300 kilometre (186 mile) railway to connect the Carmichael mine and potentially other mines in the untapped Galilee Basin to the east coast port of Abbot Point.

Despite analysts’ views that Adani’s project would be unprofitable at current coal prices, the company said it remained committed to pushing ahead with it to supply coal to power stations in India.

“Adani looks forward to continuing to work with our project partners and all levels of government to see this through,” Adani Mining, the Australian arm of Adani Enterprises, said in a statement.

Adani recently signed an agreement with POSCO Engineering & Construction Co Ltd to build the rail line. Costs and other details of the contract are due to be set by the end of this year.

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What is the role of rail in Ontario? – by Greg Gormick

Greg Gormick is a Toronto transportation writer and policy adviser. His clients have included CN, CP, VIA and numerous elected officials and government transportation agencies. This column was originally posted on the Northern Policy Institue website.

That question was at the heart of the work of a provincial task force appointed in 1980 by Premier Bill Davis and headed by MPP Margaret Scrivener. The group’s appointment was a response to many then-current issues and trends in railroading. VIA Rail Canada had just been launched by the federal government to take over the crumbling passenger services operated by CP and CN.

The energy crises of 1973-1974 and 1979 had caused many people to recognize the fuel efficiency of rail compared with cars, trucks and planes. The derailment and explosion of a CP freight train carrying dangerous commodities in Mississauga in November 1979 raised serious questions about rail safety and investment.

Thirty-three years after the Scrivener task force delivered its final report, The Future Role of Rail, it’s appropriate to again ask many of the same questions. The world has changed greatly in ensuing years and so has railroading, particularly in northern Ontario. But many of the issues explored by the task force are hauntingly familiar – and still unresolved.

Today, the symptoms indicating our once proud and efficient rail system is stressed include:

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Airport/port authority possible for Ring of Fire – by Rick Garrick (Wawatay News – July 25, 2014)

A former deputy minister of Transport Canada recently recommended an airport/port transportation authority model for the Ring of Fire mineral development area.

“It would be at arms length from the government, it would have its own fiduciary financial responsibilities and management responsibilities,” said Nick Mulder, author of the Northern Policy Institute commentary: The Airport/Port Transportation Authority Model Is It Applicable for Ontario’s Ring of Fire Mineral Development. “It would decide on the chair and the management team, it would finalize the plans for the road and railroad or whatever else is needed. It would finalize all the funding with the mining companies and transportation companies and private sector interests, pension funds, whatever.”

Mulder described his recommendation during his July 8 Northern Policy Institute speaker’s breakfast at the Valhalla Inn in Thunder Bay, where he indicated the Ring of Fire infrastructure authority would not be involved in the social and economic infrastructure needs of the First Nation communities in northern Ontario.

“Those 40 or whatever number of communities there are have their own special needs,” Mulder said. “It isn’t up to a business-driven or market-driven kind of entity that I am recommending — they should decide on what kind of water or sewer or other kind of systems they need or local roads in the community or so on.”

Mulder said some of the monies required to finance the Ring of Fire road or railroad could come from the provincial government, but the majority should be raised in the marketplace or through the mining companies.

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Governance Options for the Ring of Fire – by Nick Mulder (Northern Policy Institute – July 16, 2014)

Many questions abound when it comes to the issue of mineral development in the Ring of Fire (RoF) region of Northern Ontario. These questions – which are top of mind for many in industry, government, academia – include concerns about who will pay for the necessary infrastructure and how it will be organized, planned, managed and implemented. All big issues. In a paper I recently wrote for the Northern Policy Institute on the topic, I suggest a properly-designed transportation Authority model could be more effective than a traditional Crown corporation to meet the infrastructure needs in the RoF.

The Authority model would maintain the same core elements as formulated in federal Airport/Port Authorities, but would obviously need to be tailored to fit the unique challenges of RoF development. An effective model would place the onus and risks on all the stakeholders and not just the provincial government and taxpayers, while maintaining elements of independence, inclusiveness, risk sharing, market-driven, political independence and legislated legally-binding powers.

Let’s step back for a minute. The Ring of Fire consists of an area in the northern part of the province near the Attawapiskat River, where large high-grade deposits of chromite, nickel, copper and other minerals have been discovered, currently valued from $60 to $100 billion dollars that can be mined over many decades.

The mineral resources in the area are remote and difficult to access with many conflicting and competing interests and costly infrastructure requirements. Stakeholders include nine First Nations in the region, various mining companies and the provincial and federal governments, making infrastructure needs – such as railway, road, power, pipeline and/or air facilities – a complex arrangement.

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[Ontario Northland] ONTC workers still wondering about their future – by Jennifer Hamilton-McCharles (North Bay Nugget – July 8, 2014)

While Ontera comes to grips with the news Tuesday that they will lose half of their workforce once the sale is completed with Bell Aliant, Ontario Northland Transportation Commission employees are left wondering about their fate.

Brian Kelly, spokesman for the General Chairperson’s Association, said the government hasn’t been clear about the future of the ONTC.

“Are we going to form a strategic alliance with Metrolinx? Are we going to be part of the Ring of Fire development? There’s just a lot of uncertainty right now,” he said. Kelly said the future of the ONTC remains up in the air.

“The government has given us no indication what the plan is,” he said. “The work in the shops is slowly drying up. The contracts should be completed by the end of the year and then there will be very little work in refurbishment,” he said.

“It’s nice the government is not selling the ONTC, but employees want to know ‘what’s the rest of the story?’” The Liberal government announced in 2012 the divestment of the ONTC, however they have since changed their position and decided to leave the majority of the corporation in public hands.

ONTC’s telecommunications division, Ontera, is scheduled to be sold to Bell Aliant by the end of the summer. The transition will mean the loss of about 66 jobs.

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