Burns Lake Mayor Chris Beach will soon be attending a meeting with Skeena-Bulkley Valley MP Nathan Cullen to discuss rail issues in northern B.C.
The meeting is being organized by the Quick Station Residents Association (QSRA), which has been raising awareness of several rail issues, including questionable maintenance practices, derailments, dangerous goods and the potential for long-term environmental change.
READ MORE: Regional district grills CN over safety
“If we all communicate our concerns to our federal representative, it should encourage those with power and responsibility to step to the plate and initiate positive change,” says QSRA member David Gillespie.
In a letter drafted but not sent to Transport Canada in February 2016, Gillespie says QSRA attempts to voice some of these concerns at the local and regional offices of the Canada National Railway (CN) have not been taken seriously.
In a new letter, dated October 2017, Gillespie says their concerns have “remained or worsened.”
“We had hoped that local municipal and regional efforts would yield some improvements in CN’s track record; sadly, with the increase in rail traffic, all of the concerns as expressed remain problematic, and many have worsened.”
After improvements to the Port of Prince Rupert, the number of freight trains passing through Burns Lake is expected to rise. CN police constable Jamie Thorne told Burns Lake council last year that Burns Lake already sees an average of 24 trains per day, or one train per hour.
Some of the concerns raised by QSRA include accident and response time.
“Accident and response time, as documented and published in 2014-15, have been recognized as grossly inadequate. In the least, the communities with fire departments and/or emergency response teams must be funded, facilitated and trained for rapid response in communication and coordination with federal, provincial and corporate emergency response organizations.”
The QSRA also raises concerns about container construction.
“For the safety of rail communities and the protection of waterways, we are seeking assurance that containers for flammables, chemicals, and other hazardous or toxic products be double walled, caped and sealed – essentially puncture and spill proof.”
A train derailment involving 27 cars took place near Hazelton on Jan. 19, 2018. The cars were carrying approximately 100 tons of coal each. Another CN train derailed on Dec. 8, 2017 near the Bulkley Canyon east of New Hazelton. According to CN, the 50 coal cars were empty.
Gillespie also raises concerns about rail bed integrity.
“During the time of significant increases in coal export, we were informed by rail line engineers that the existing rail bed was not built to handle the increased weight and volume. We have observed the placement of heavier ballasts, the addition and replacement of ties, and the installation and repair of continuous rail. However, the subsurface soils breath the ballast are not much changed from 1913, so that in certain locations they tend to become liquid and move during spring runoff.”
Burns Lake council say they agree that there are rail issues that should be discussed. The meeting with Cullen will be held in Telkwa’s council chamber on Feb. 21, 2018.