Who stands up for railways when oil spills off the tracks?

The big news: Pipelines once again touted as solution in wake of prairie derailment

Liam Richards/CP

“We need pipelines. We need them and we need to be unequivocal that pipelines are still certainly the best way.”—Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall

Railways may still offer patriotic sightseers a romantic trip across the country, but parallel tracks don’t have a lot of friends when trains fly off the rails. When the cargo is oil, all the worse.

Yesterday, a train carrying petroleum, ethanol and other chemicals derailed less than a kilometre from Landis, Sask., a small town about 90 minutes west of Saskatoon. Afterwards, Premier Brad Wall cautiously defended the railways that cross his province. “We are going to be railing more oil out of this province, that’s just the fact of the matter,” he said. “We’re doing it now and frankly doing it efficiently and safely for the most part, again from a statistical standpoint.” Not exactly a categorical defence, that.

Wall went on to promote pipelines as “the best way” to transport oil, a view shared by his federal Conservative cousins.

Meanwhile, in the land of federal Conservatives, a government memo unearthed earlier this week revealed that Canadian National Railway officials spoke with the feds about railing oil through British Columbia as an alternative to pipelines, including the controversial Northern Gateway proposal. The memo called railways “an increasingly viable option” for the transport of oil, and added that the potential for growth is “theoretically unlimited.” Just wait for an oil spill in the B.C. interior, when opposition parties parade this kind of memo around the nation’s capital.

Oil will travel on railways, a perfectly viable option until something spills off the tracks. Then, like clockwork, everybody starts talking about pipelines. What if they never come?


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