CP Rail discusses hauling of dangerous goods

CP Rail carries dangerous goods across North America – and Shuswap communities including Salmon Arm and Sicamous are no exception.

CP Rail carries dangerous goods across North America – and Shuswap communities including Salmon Arm  and Sicamous are no exception.

“Must CP Rail move dangerous goods through Salmon Arm, as well as 1,100 other communities? Yes, we’re required,” said Mike LoVecchio of CP Rail during a recent presentation to the City of Salmon Arm’s development and planning services committee.

Substances such as ammonia, chlorine, crude oil and jet fuel are among those that the railway carries daily in Canada. LoVecchio explained that CP operates under “common carrier obligation,” an obligation under Canadian law which says all commodities are equal.

Dangerous goods are currently about five per cent of overall traffic, he said.

CP owns the rails, while the tank cars are owned by different companies.

Following the tragic derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec last July, which occurred on a line owned by U.S.-based MMA Railway, LoVecchio said CP has been providing communities with an overview of emergency process and planning, to help educate the public, councils and first responders.

“It’s important for you to know, we are one of the safest ways to move dangerous goods,” he said, explaining that the process for shipping starts before CP sees the car. Then, prior to departure, the cars are visually inspected and, while in motion, a detector at the side of the track measures the temperature of the wheels.

“The detector sends a message to the crew, axle number 224, or whatever it is, has triggered an alarm.”

Then the train is brought to a stop and the wheel is inspected and repaired, if necessary, at the next set-off location.

“We have turned ourselves from being reactive to proactive.”

He said the train involved in Lac-Mégantic was operated by a single crew person, while CP trains all have two crew members. MMA and CP’s tracks connect just east of Montreal.

The DOT-111 tank cars are the most common in the North American fleet and were used in the Lac-Mégantic derailment, he noted.

CP believes it’s time for the old tank cars to be upgraded, LoVecchio said, but the company doesn’t own them.

“We have levied a tariff on each tank car. A surcharge of $325. It’s an incentive to get owners to get on with replacing them.”

LoVecchio recounted that Mayor Nancy Cooper had informed him a coal train tipped a couple of years ago in Canoe. The first priority of CP Rail is for its crew and residents, he said. Next is the environment. Also important is keeping the line open.

“All will likely happen at the same time…”

LoVecchio said communities have a role to play with regard to zoning, not allowing development close to tracks.

“A railroad is an industrial site. It operates 24-7, it transports dangerous goods.”

In the past, he said, companies that produced the goods were required to test and classify them. Now, until there’s greater confidence in testing, the government will classify risk.

Coun. Ken Jamieson said he is interested in the inventory of dangerous goods going through. He asked about the possibility of receiving advance notice.

He was told the information is available in a quarterly report, but after the fact, not before shipments take place.

Several first responders and members of Salmon Arm’s emergency operations team were present.

While LoVecchio said CP prefers ‘table-top’ training scenarios over mock exercises, Cliff Dougherty, the Columbia Shuswap Regional District’s emergency program co-ordinator, said local personnel like to do mock exercises every three years because they reveal issues sometimes not considered.

For instance, he said, last exercise there were 99 ‘patients’ and it was discovered that when the hospital got to 59 people it couldn’t handle any more.

Salmon Arm Fire Chief Brad Shirley asked for details about CP Rail’s emergency procedures and will pursue setting up a training session with CP.

Coun. Chad Eliason asked if there’s anything the city can do to prevent spills into the lake.

LoVecchio said CP Rail is asking the city to replace the Marine Park crossing with an underpass, citing two pedestrian deaths there in recent years. He said the company would have funds to contribute, but didn’t say how much.

Eliason asked again about spills, and LoVecchio said the company has environmental response professionals.

“We are appropriately resourced for that.”

Coun. Alan Harrison asked about the most common causes of derailment. LoVecchio said there are lots of moving parts on a train, so lots of causes. However, he said, much mechanical failure has been eradicated.

“The stuff we can’t control is what keeps us up at night,” he said, pointing to the recent incident in Malakwa where a pickup truck left the highway, crossed through oncoming traffic and ended up getting struck by a freight train.

LoVecchio said CP Rail owns 16,000 miles of track in six Canadian provinces and 13 American states.