By Marcia Love
The number of train derailments making headlines in recent years has many communities with rail lines running through them concerned – including Maple Creek.
Town council met with Canadian Pacific Railway representatives on March 11 to discuss this, among other issues.
The mayor and councillors informed CP Rail they are concerned with the speed of trains travelling through town. CP Rail said train speeds should not exceed 60 miles per hour within communities. However, if trains are hauling dangerous material, speeds must not exceed 45 mph through communities.
“The question is how do you tell?” asked Mayor Barry Rudd, noting a lot of oil cars are coming through town, but they aren’t necessarily hauling crude. It could be canola oil or other liquids that aren’t hazardous.
The town has made a request to receive a report detailing the types of materials being hauled through Maple Creek by rail in the last three months, but it has not received that report yet.
While the mayor said it would be more beneficial to know what types of material are going to be coming through rather than what already has, this information isn’t available.
“You can look at it historically and say, OK, every three months there’s so many of these cars coming through our community, so we sort of know. But if a derailment happens, you don’t know what’s in there,” Rudd stated.
Members of the Swift Current Fire Department have taken a course in Iowa on rail safety. They are now able to access an online database where they can enter the serial number of a rail car to find out what it’s carrying.
But until a search on the database is completed, there’s no way of knowing what exactly is being hauled.
The length of time train whistles are blown while the engines make their way through town was brought up as well. Conductors are to give two long, one short and another long whistle as they come to the crossing on either side of town.
If the length of time a whistle is blown is questioned, CP Rail representatives said the company can be contacted. The time, location and direction the train is travelling will be used to determine who the conductor is, and he will be contacted.
CP police can also be contacted if a train is believed to be speeding. From the head office in Calgary, the speed of a train can then be tracked by GPS. Complaints can be lodge by phone or online through CP Rail’s website.
The mayor also voiced concern about the recent relocation of the local railway maintenance crew to Medicine Hat. The crew in Gull Lake has been relocated to Swift Current as well, leaving no crews available along the 225-kilometre stretch of track from Medicine Hat to Swift Current.
“If a derailment happens at night after hours, it’s going to take anyone a minimum of an hour and a half to get here, no matter which direction they come from,” he stated.
A CP Rail rep said crews drive the tracks and monitor them a minimum of twice a week, usually three times. She added the section of rails that comes through town is the newest type, which is one long welded track that is more reliable.
CP Rail has 14,400 miles of rail line in its system, with 60 per cent of it in Canada. The other 40 per cent is in the United States, extending all the way down to Kansas City, Mo.
The company told council train-related accidents occur in less than one per cent of its rail use.
“When you look at it from a percentage, that’s even lots,” Rudd said. “One per cent is too much, as far as they’re concerned. They’d like to see no derailments.”
Two fiery train derailments have occurred near the same northern Ontario community since February, bringing about higher demands for accountability and rail safety. The federal government introduced tighter rail-safety regulations after the 2013 tragedy at Lac-Megantic, but many argue it doesn’t go far enough in addressing the hazards of shipping crude oil.
With rail safety now very high on the priority list of many communities, Rudd hopes council voicing its concerns will make CP Rail more aware of the issues.
“It’s not just one town. There’s plenty of us, and it’s right across Canada,” he said. “It was a positive meeting. It’s communication, and they know we’re concerned. But how far it goes, I don’t know.”
The mayor said after the June 2010 flood CP Rail offered to come and do an EMO presentation on train derailments. The town will be having another EMO meeting soon.