White Rock calls for dangerous goods trains to move through Abbotsford

Officials have written a letter to the minister of transport.

  • Apr. 27, 2014 2:00 p.m.
Henry Braun

Henry Braun

by Tracy Holmes, Black Press

White Rock officials have asked the minister of transport for a re-routing of trains hauling dangerous goods out of their city and potentially to the Sumas Crossing at Abbotsford.

In a critical letter to Minister Lisa Raitt, White Rock officials say hauling dangerous goods by rail through their “densely populated” city is unacceptable.

They request steps be taken to re-route such trains 30 kilometres east to a BNSF rail line that runs to and from the U.S. at Sumas. White Rock officials say their small seaside community is too populated through which to transport noxious goods, from crude oil to chlorine, several times a day.

A dangerous-goods derailment “would be calamitous – making the Lac Mégantic incident look inconsequential by comparison,” the letter states, referring to the July 2013 explosion in Quebec that killed 47 people.

But Abbotsford Coun. Henry Braun, informed Wednesday by The News of the White Rock letter, said re-routing dangerous goods through his community would just be “shifting a problem to a different jurisdiction.”

Braun, former president of railroad contractor PNR RailWorks, said after he was approached with similar concerns by residents, he and a Mission councillor spearheaded a local railway safety review.

He said that though Abbotsford has a lower population density than White Rock, the potential impact of an incident would still be measurable on both the population and farmland in the area.

He also noted the population of the Fraser Valley is expected to greatly increase in coming years.

Although Braun said he is not against transporting dangerous goods – as the economy relies on it – there are significant environmental  and public safety concerns. He said the government and railroad companies should find ways to address railway safety for all communities through more stringent regulations and better equipment, such as using “double-hull” tank cars to provide an extra layer of protection. Lower speeds could also increase safety, but he added there is an economic impact to slowing trains down.

“Those are the kind of things that we need to tell our federal government to start looking at.”

Sending the missive to Raitt was recommended by White Rock’s new rail-safety task force last month. The idea received unanimous support from council.

While the letter specifies a “spur line” in Sumas, it suggests there are other options.

“The City of White Rock would like to see all dangerous goods re-routed to the Sumas Crossing, or some other route available to the BNSFR,” the letter states.

– with files from Alex Butler