The CN derailment in Gainford, Alberta on Saturday was somewhat ironic for those who heard one of CN’s top operating officials speak at last Tuesday’s Greater Langley Chamber of Commerce meeting.
Francois Boucher, who is general superintendent for CN’s B.C. South region, spoke about the general safety of the rail industry, and pointed out that 99 per cent of goods shipped by rail arrive safely. He spoke about the volume of CN traffic in Langley, on its mainline through Fort Langley and on the CP track through Langley City, which is the main rail route to the Roberts Bank port area.
There is no question that rail transportation is as safe, or safer, than any other means — highway, air or marine. Many people are trying to use the Gainford incident to emphasize the relative safety of pipelines, but as was shown in Kalamazoo, Michigan several years ago, major spills involving pipelines also take place.
However, rail lines go through mny heavy-populated areas, and when there is a derailment involving hazardous goods, the consequences can be much greater. In Gainford, nine cars were carrying liquefied petroleum gas — likely propane. This is a highly explosive product and has been shipped primarily by rail for many years.
In Langley, liquefied petroleum gas goes through on the CN mainline every single day. The line passes through Fort Langley, with homes built close to both sides of the tracks. Many people also live near the rail line in Walnut Grove.
The federal government said in the throne speech last week that it would implement “targeted actions” to ensure more safety in the transportation of hazardous goods. This is a step in the right direction.
Boucher emphasized what is most important — the need for railways to make safety their top priority at all times. That emphasis needs to go beyond the confines of the rail line itself, and take into full consideration those who live near rail lines — in Langley and elsewhere.