Derailment raises red flags: Puchmayr

A derailment of a train carrying coal near Burnaby Lake on Saturday has raised some red flags for train movement in New Westminster and across Canada. - Mario Bartel/NewsLeader
A derailment of a train carrying coal near Burnaby Lake on Saturday has raised some red flags for train movement in New Westminster and across Canada.
— image credit: Mario Bartel/NewsLeader

The derailment of a CN coal train in Burnaby on Saturday raises red flags for all communities says a New Westminster city councillor.

Although coal trains rarely travel through New Westminster, a national trend has the head of the city’s emergency advisory committee Coun. Chuck Puchmayr concerned.

On Saturday, a busted beaver dam and soil weakened by heavy rains caused a derailment dumping coal into Silver Creek, which runs into Burnaby Lake which, in turn, drains into the Brunette River and then on to the Fraser River. It was the latest in a list of several derailments of various kinds across Canada in the last year.

“Absolutely, it raises red flags. Anytime a train derails it’s certainly a concern. We’re starting to see quite an increase in train derailments across Canada. Relatively it’s been an extremely safe method of transportation, certainly safer than trucking, but recent incidents have to raise some questions,” said Puchmayr, who called for independent safety inspections. “We need to have a look to see if the senior level of government is doing their job to make sure our railways are operating at the safest of capacities.”

The coal on the derailed train, said Puchmayr, would likely have come through from the interior of British Columbia on tracks north of the Fraser before being transferred at a sorting yard in Sapperton for shipment to Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver.

“That coal has been coming for 100 years from Northern British Columbia and eastern British Columbia and even Alberta. So it’s been relatively safe running through that corridor to North Vancouver,” said Puchmayr.

He noted New Westminster is less likely to see a derailment because train traffic through the city moves at a slower pace because of the dense population and industrial activity compared to the straight stretch along Burnaby Lake.

“The railways do maintenance, and I’m fairly comfortable they’re doing adequate maintenance. They don’t want down time, but there needs to be independent overseeing of track maintenance.”

Following the tragic derailment in Lac- Mégantic, Que., New Westminster dusted off its emergency response plans, said Puchmayr. He said all of the commodities that move through the city have been identified.

Puchmayr said there’s an agreement from the railways to immediately provide New Westminster emergency responders with a digital manifest of any derailed train as they’re rushing to the accident scene. Puchmayr said the city intends to do a mock exercise to test out the system.

Following Saturday’s derailment, Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan complained the railways don’t tell municipalities what they’re shipping through their communities.

Quayside Community Board past president James Crosty, who has been leading the New Westminster campaign opposed to a proposed coal transfer facility at Fraser Surrey Docks, said he liked what Corrigan had to say because communities should have control of what moves through them. Having a digital manifest sent after an accident isn’t enough according to the former mayoral candidate.

“We knew if there was a problem, they would have that information at hand,” said Crosty. “The challenge here is what [goods are] passing through and sitting in the yard. I think that’s more important. You don’t wait around finding out what you think is moving through there. If there was an alternative of more isolated routes I would advocate using them to move dangerous goods rather than moving them through highly populated areas.”

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