The horrendous explosion earlier this month of a freight train in Lac-Megantic, Quebec, provides a kind of grim vindication to the activists who successfully blocked a proposal to run trains full of hazardous materials through Chelsea, Somerville, and other communities. The 72-car train, carrying oil from North Dakota to a Canadian refinery, derailed and leveled a neighborhood, killing at least 38 people. By coincidence, the accident came just a few days after a Boston-area firm announced it was abandoning its controversial plan to move highly flammable ethanol by rail to a terminal in Revere.
The decision by Waltham-based Global Partners LP was good news: It wasn’t appropriate to bring such large amounts of explosive material through such a heavily populated corridor. But simply blocking the transfer of hazardous cargos doesn’t eliminate safety risks. In most cases, it shifts them someplace else. The real lesson of the Quebec tragedy is the need for tighter regulations of shipments — for instance, banning the use of one-man crews like the one used by the train company in Lac-Megantic — and a more rational approach to ensuring that dangerous shipments move by the safest practical routes and methods.