Municipalities looking for rail info

Hazardous goods: Local governments cite the need for improved communication.

Kenn Mount

Kenn Mount

A recent derailment in Revelstoke has further emphasized the need for more co-operation and communication betwee local governments, emergency service providers and a rail company that operates in the region.

Awareness, or a lack thereof, of what’s being transported on Canada’s rail network came to the forefront among local governments following the disastrous derailment of an unattended freight train in Lac-Mégantic on July 6, 2013. The accident resulted in explosions killing 47 people and destroying 40 buildings. Since then, local governments, including Salmon Arm and Sicamous council, have expressed an interest in knowing what’s being shipped in the hundreds of railcars that come through their communities on a daily basis.

Sicamous council has been particularly vocal as of late, calling for greater transparency and co-operation from rail operator, CP Rail.

“Right now, CP seems to be giving us very little information as to what’s coming through our communities,” commented Coun. Terry Rysz. “In investigating this, they claim they don’t want to give out too much information because of the possibility of terrorist attacks. I kind of feel that’s a bit of a cop-out.

“I feel we should have a manifest of some sort so that we know what the hell is going through here. We couldn’t deal with that for every train, because there’s a train coming through every 20 minutes. But we should have some sort of general idea.”

Furthermore, if a derailment should occur within the district, be it hazardous or benign, Rysz argues the municipality and its emergency responders should be at the top of CP’s “to-call” list.

“CP Rail should inform, immediately, the nearby communities if there’s a derailment of some sort, whether it’s serious or not serious. We should be first on the list to respond to,” said Rysz.

Rob Girard, Revelstoke’s fire chief and emergency program co-ordinator, feels the same, especially after a Sept. 10 derailment in his community, which he first heard of when contacted by the local newspaper.

“Accidents happen – it’s within that first 10 minutes that we want to be notified. Not after the fact,” said Girard, noting the derailment, involving four cars with five containers, either empty or carrying hay, occurred within several hundred metres of a trailer park. “We want to be notified right away that there’s been a train derailment in the community. Ok, we’re responding.”

In response, CP spokesperson Salem Woodrow stated there were no injuries or public safety and environmental issues, and CP has its own “emergency protocols, which were immediately enacted and all safety precautions and measures were taken as we responded to the situation.”

“CP’s Police Communications Centre notified the local police authority, in this case the RCMP, who then makes necessary notifications,” stated Woodrow in an email.

Girard, however, says police also first learned of the incident through local media.

Woodrow says CP has since “reached out to the city and we are going to look at this together.”

Information of what’s being transported by rail is available, though only in a report released one year after the fact. This confidential information is released to emergency planning officials listed with Transport Canada. Locally, that would be Shuswap Emergency Planning co-ordinator Cliff Doherty.

Speaking to process, Doherty says transport vehicles carrying hazardous materials, be they railcar or trailer, by law must carry a placard on the side stating what’s inside. This allows emergency responders to determine an appropriate response when needed. A manifest is also carried in the locomotive.

If there is a potentially hazardous spill from a derailment or trucking incident, firefighters within the region are able to provide a limited degree of hazardous material response. In such situations, Doherty says the Ministry of Environment would take the lead, and the shipper would take responsibility for any cleanup required.

Regarding the Revelstoke incident, Doherty confirmed there is no process in place where his organization would be informed of any derailment occurring within the boundaries of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District (CSRD).

“I’m going to say, we would all hope the railway would notify the emergency agencies when a derailment takes place, but I do know that a great many of them that are minor aren’t reported to the emergency community,” said Doherty.

For a hazardous materials response, Kenn Mount, fire services co-ordinator with the CSRD, says firefighters are trained either to an “awareness level,” where they know how to identify a material and take the necessary precautions or, in the case of the Sicamous and Salmon Arm fire departments, to an “operations level,” where firefighters may provide additional support such as damming or diking. However, he says the Salmon Arm, Sicamous and regional fire departments are working towards developing a regional hazardous materials response team.

“That’s something we’ve kind of had some early discussions with, but it’s very early and there’s certainly nothing in the budget for next year, for example,” commented Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley. “Ultimately, the shipper is responsible for the product, but in saying that, there’s certainly things that the fire service or emergency responders can do to prevent things from getting worse.”

Shirley says his department has a good working relationship with CP, and he also receives the annual report of goods being transported through the community. However, he says it would be beneficial if a process were in place where the local fire department is immediately informed of any derailment.

Mount agreed an alternative system to 911 for non-emergency incidents is desirable and would be beneficial.

“Then we could start logging that and bring in appropriate action for our own due diligence,” said Mount. “We don’t have any issues when there’s a 911 call. That seems to work well. But there needs to be something, more through the emergency program, because a derailment would involve more than just one agency with fire suppression. It could involve RCMP, Ministry of Environment, some other things like that.”

-With files from Revelstoke Times Review.