The Regional District of Bulkley Nechako (RDBN) brought Canadian National Railway Company (CN) to the discussion table to put forth grievances ranging from safety due to transportation of hazardous goods, to rail yard cleanup.
In a board meeting earlier this month, the RDBN had CN representatives come to discuss rail safety and the district’s frustrations with the way CN has been dealing with all the issues. Dangerous Goods Officer John Nicoletti and Public Affairs person Tyler Banick gave a presentation of CN’s work in the area. When they opened up the floor to take questions however, it became clear that there weren’t any solutions to local problems.
Whistle cessation and rail crossings
In a September meeting of the board, a delegation of Wayne Whittemore and residents of Electoral Area “A” spoke about the issues they were facing with CN’s whistles at all hours. From noise disturbances to serious health impact and disruption of quality of life, the group requested the district, with a signed petition by 334 residents, find a way to make whistle cessation possible at Lake Kathlyn East, Lake Kathlyn West and Slack Road. The board has since been in consultation with CN over this.
Problems around unguarded rail crossings leading to accidents and blocked rail crossings were also discussed. The board also received a letter from Dave and Verna Hopper of Electoral Area “B” (Burns Lake Rural) regarding blocked driveways for up to 3-4 hours in the location of a double siding. The Hoppers, who live in the Tintagel area south of Hwy 16, 10.5 kilometres east of Burns Lake, have been facing the CN rail blocking access to their home, for years. On Sept. 9, the crossing was blocked for seven hours, leaving them stranded.
When asked about this, CN delegates said that at crossings, CN is regulated by Transport Canada and under those regulations, at a public crossing a standing train shouldn’t block the crossing for more than 5 minutes if there is traffic present. However, private crossings were not included in the regulations. They also asked the board to inform their community that CN required specific information to identify why a train is across a public or private crossing for long periods of time and that people should call the CN public inquiry line with information around date, time and mileage point.
Transporting dangerous goods
A major issue for the district has been the transportation of unknown, dangerous goods through the rail corridor. The regional district had also received a letter from the Friends of Morice Bulkley, outlining the dangers of carrying hazardous petroleum and unknown substances and how this transportation is on a rise.
Currently, there are as many as 15 trains travelling through the corridor every day and in the future, that number could go up to 30 trains a day according to the CN delegates.
The directors discussed how in case of an accident, or a derailment, when local firefighters aren’t aware of what is in the containers, it becomes dangerous for them to operate. Board chair Gerry Thiessen even pointed out that these firefighters, who were volunteers, were risking their lives to deal with CN’s goods and have a right to know what they would be dealing with to prepare for the worst case scenario.
In response to this, the CN delegates said the company had resources located along rail corridor between Prince George and Prince Rupert and a fire response trailer in Terrace and a response trailer in Prince Rupert. They also spoke on how CN would work on communication with the local fire chiefs but said that rail safety was a “shared responsibility.”
By the end of the meeting, there were more questions than answers. Questions around cleanup near the rail yards and tracks, about vacant lands near the railway properties, about whether CN would ever consider revitalizing the line north of Fort St. James or not, were raised. However, the delegation wasn’t able to give any satisfactory solutions or answers to any of the questions raised during the meeting.
“A lot of our concerns are still not being heard. As a board, we are able to usually make headway with some groups but with CN we are still not getting anywhere,” said District of Houston Mayor Shane Brienen during the following RDBN meeting.
Brienen also suggested putting together a larger group by coordinating with other groups, districts to bring all the issues in front of CN, collectively.
Village of Burns Lake Mayor Dolores Funk agreed with this and also expressed her frustration with the meeting.
“They sit down with us and take up all our time and tell us that we don’t actually have a problem because they have put in place all these solutions,” she said and expressed how those solutions weren’t actually solving anything.
In a recent village council meeting, it was decided that the Burns Lake council would be sitting down with CN in the upcoming days.
“I just want a meeting where we can sit down and I can tell them my actual problems and they can give me actual solutions with ways they are going to fix it, and fix it right away,” she said.
“I think we need to have a very large coordinated approach because we all have the same problems and so do all the other regional districts and so if we can coordinate that, that would be very beneficial,” added Funk, agreeing with Brienen.