One of the things the Star excels at is calling out companies and public agencies that use “security” as a catch-all excuse for secrecy. Today’s paper includes a perfect example. As a follow-up to a post-Lac-Mégantic investigation initially published last month, the Star has an article about the fact that rail carriers refuse to tell Toronto city planners precisely what chemicals are being transported along Toronto’s Dupont Street rail corridor, an area of increasing interest for condo developers. “We have to just assume that there are dangerous goods and plan accordingly,” one city planner told the Star. Ordinary citizens are in the same position. It’s possible to figure out what’s inside individual rail cars by checking the placards attached to them, but rail carriers—the largest of which being CN and CP—won’t divulge historical information about overall rail traffic to anyone but emergency-response officials, because of some unspecified security concerns.
Even assuming there are legitimate security issues with releasing this type of information (and if those concerns are real, the rail carriers and Transport Canada have done a very poor job of articulating them), the secrecy also has an important side-effect: it prevents people living along the rail corridor from getting anxious about all the toxic, flammable and radioactive stuff that trundles through their backyards. If released, rail-cargo information could definitely lead to unwarranted, NIMBY-style hyperventilation, but it could also reveal some substantial worries. For rail carriers, “security” makes for a very convenient reason not to allow the public a chance to evaluate the threat.