Being prepared locally for a worst-case scenario on the rails is a priority for Sicamous Mayor Terry Rysz.
The mayor was pleased to hear that sentiment is shared by CP Rail during a presentation by CP director of government affairs Mike LoVecchio to members of the board of the Columbia Shuswap Regional District March 19.
“They did a training session in Revelstoke just a few weeks ago,” said Rysz. “My biggest concern is having our first responders with enough skill-set in order to get a situation that might be catastrophic to lockdown, so that we don’t send a bunch of people going in that don’t have any expertise and have a major disaster on our hands.”
LoVecchio provided details on how new regulations and company commitment have led to safer transport of goods by rail.
“Safety has been improving and CP Rail has led the pack,” he said, noting last year was the company’s best performance in corporate history. “We marry professionals with technology and the two together are the reason; we’re changing from being reactive to proactive.”
He says the company has an obligation to move commodities, including those that are dangerous.
LoVecchio said crude oil is one of the more dangerous commodities but assured directors not a lot of it moves through the regional district directly.
But other commodities do – including various hydrocarbon liquids, propane and chlorine.
“At the end of the day, these are the products you as communities use,” he said.
“Society is using it and we are moving it, and under the Railway Safety Act, we are obligated to move it safely.”
LoVecchio noted regulations under the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act have been tightened up since the Lac-Mégantic tragedy in Quebec, and that CP uses the latest electronic equipment, combined with regular visual inspection, to make sure trains are in good repair, and tracks are subjected to inspection on a regular basis.
Despite all precautions, however, LoVecchio agreed accidents do happen.
He says CP Rail works with communities to be prepared for such eventualities, beginning with his role in communicating with local governments.
“We also work directly with first responders with tabletop exercises where we train together,” he said. “On occasion we do mock exercises and are in discussion right now with Shuswap Emergency.”
CP Rail also offers what LoVecchio describes as “Railroad 101” in which firefighters are given specific training on tank cars and familiarization with locomotives.
Rysz expressed concern about increasingly longer trains and the number that run through the CSRD every day.
LoVecchio advised that trains are now in excess of 7,500 feet on average, with inter-modal trains as long as 8,500 feet. Coal trains are the longest at 9,000 to 10,000 and a train carrying all tank cars varies in length from 6,500 to 7,500 feet.
After the presentation, Rysz said he had an opportunity to question LoVecchio regarding some of his concerns, including how quickly CP’s contracted response team could be in Sicamous.
“They do have stations in Kamloops, Kelowna, Calgary, Vancouver, where they have trailers… that they could get here in a short period of time,” said Rysz. “He said probably within two hours, so that’s interesting. That was a concern for me because they really don’t have their own task force, it’s all third party.”