UPDATED: Trains rolling again after derailment, but worries continue

An investigator checks out two of the three rail cars that tipped over on the CN tracks just west of Cariboo Road on Saturday, spilling their load of metallurgical coal into nearby Silver Creek. A total of seven cars were involved in the derailment, which may have been caused by erosion of the rail bed by heavy rain Friday night and Saturday morning. - MARIO BARTEL/NEWSLEADER
An investigator checks out two of the three rail cars that tipped over on the CN tracks just west of Cariboo Road on Saturday, spilling their load of metallurgical coal into nearby Silver Creek. A total of seven cars were involved in the derailment, which may have been caused by erosion of the rail bed by heavy rain Friday night and Saturday morning.

Rail traffic is moving again on the Canadian National railway line through the Lougheed corridor after the derailment of seven coal cars just West of Cariboo Road on Saturday.

The cars on the westbound 152-car Canadian Pacific train jumped the tracks at around 11 a.m. Three of the cars tipped over, spilling their load of coal from the Kootenays onto the south side of the rail bed, some of it into Silver Creek that feeds into nearby Burnaby Lake.

Emily Hamer, of Canadian National, which operates the tracks and had two of its crew members running the train, said the derailment was caused by the heavy rain that pelted Metro Vancouver Friday night and Saturday morning. The rain washed out a nearby beaver dam and eroded the bed beneath the tracks.

Officials from the Environment Ministry and Burnaby's Environmental Health department, as well as CN's own environmental crews, responded to the scene to assess the damage to the protected stream, that is a habitat for fish.

Hamer said that work is ongoing.

"The cleanup is underway," said Hamer, who couldn't give an estimate how much coal spilled. "There's no timeline for the cleanup."

An official from the Ministry of Environment said the cleanup would continue "for the next few weeks to remove material from isolated pockets."

Allan Dutton, of the Stoney Creek Streamkeepers, said Saturday he could see black water on the north side of Burnaby Lake and flowing out into the Brunette River in a fast-moving current created by the rainstorm.

Elmer Rudolph, of the Sapperton Fish and Game Club, said while the salmon spawning season is pretty much over, any coal dust infiltrating the water could pose a danger to eggs buried in the stream.

"We're concerned because we have no idea what the effect could be," said Rudolph. "Coal dust affecting eggs is not something we're familiar with."

While much of Silver Creek is covered as it runs down from Burnaby Mountain and through the Lake City industrial area, it opens up for a short stretch parallel to the railway tracks before heading into Burnaby Lake about 200 metres upstream of the Cariboo dam. Rudolph said there is a small spawning area just downstream of the tracks.

Nobody was injured in the derailment, which also closed Cariboo Road at the level crossing for several hours.

But Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan, who visited the site at Winston and Brighton on Saturday, said it could have been a lot worse.

"Imagine if it was some other substance," said Corrigan of trains moving through the city. "They're carrying substances that are toxic, they're carrying substances that are dangerous. We don't even know if these kinds of substances are moving through our city."

Corrigan said the potential for danger from train accidents is "extreme.

"It's frightening in the middle of an urban centre to have a derailment like that."

In July the derailment of a freight train pulling tank cars filled with crude oil in Lac Mégantic, Que. caused an explosion that levelled have the town's centre and killed 47 people. Last week 150 people had to be evacuated from their homes in Plaster Rock, New Brunswick after 19 cars, including five tankers carrying crude oil to a refinery in Saint John, derailed and caught fire.

Corrigan said he and officials from many other municipalities are frustrated by the lack of communication from railways and the federal government about the kinds of goods being transported on rail lines.

In November the federal government enacted new rules that require the countries Class 1 railway companies, like CN and CP, to report to municipalities every three months what goods have passed through. Smaller companies will only have to report annual.

Corrigan said that's not good enough.

"Most of us should be concerned the federal government isn't taking an active concern about the safety of its citizens," said Corrigan. "It's very frustrating for us at the local level to try to cope with this. People have to get angry."

Jane Shin, the MLA for Burnaby-Lougheed through which the rail line runs, urged provincial and federal governments to be more proactive about the responsible transport of dangerous goods.

"Health effects of coal dust and locomotive diesel emissions on local residents, risks of collision or explosion in the urban neighbourhood, and contamination of surround nature are legitimate safety and environment concerns," said Shin, who also visited the site on Saturday.

The coal on Saturday's ill-fated train was bound for Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver, where it would be exported for steel production.

That angered Kevin Washbrook of the environmental group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, who visited the scene after he was alerted about the derailment on Twitter.

"We've been concerned for a year-and-a-half about the plans to increase coal exports through Vancouver," said Washbrook, whose group has been a vocal critic about proposed projects like the construction of a coal export terminal at Surrey-Fraser Docks. "More coal means more trains and means more potential problems."

Corrigan said the rail companies have to be more accountable to local authorities.

"Rail companies do as they please, that's just not good enough," said Corrigan. "What danger are we putting our police and firefighters through when they respond to these situations?"

Corrigan said he'd be bringing the matter before city council.



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