When a CN train derailed in the upper Cheakamus Canyon on Aug. 5, the Ministry of Transportation, Ministry of Environment and CN Rail all launched separate investigations into the cause of the accident, which resulted in a sodium hydroxide spill that killed over 90 per cent of fish in the Cheakamus River.
At the time some former B.C. Rail employees and rail experts suggested that they already knew the cause: too many cars in the train. CN denied that this was the case.
When a section of another CN Rail train went off the tracks last week, five kilometres north of the first derailment, the same critics pointed out the fact that the train was also unusually long and called on the provincial government to take action.
According to Joan McIntyre, the MLA for West Vancouver-Garibaldi, the government took action on Tuesday.
A senior vice president from CN met with Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon, Environment Minister Barry Penner and McIntyre at the B.C. Legislature. The tone, said McIntyre, was serious.
After a two-hour discussion, the ministers were satisfied that CN was taking concrete action to address the derailments, and remained committed to funding the cleanup and remediation efforts required after the first spill.
"Our main purpose was to make sure CN was taking these derailments seriously, and we wanted to make sure they didnt think that this was just the cost of doing business, because it is unacceptable. We wanted to get that message clear," said McIntyre.
McIntyre noted that B.C. Rail had train derailments too, but two derailments in the same area just months apart "raises a red flag."
After the second derailment, CN had already undertaken a three-step program to prevent future derailments. The first step was to add an extra engine to the middle sections of empty or mostly empty trains, to ensure that power was better distributed. Empty rail cars, or sections of empty rail cars on a loaded train, are more likely to jump the tracks in curved sections.
"That will be mandatory, and thats for the whole line from North Vancouver to Prince George and back," said McIntyre. "That was news to us, that CN was committed to doing that. We all agreed that it was a positive step."
The second step is to increase the number of internal safety audits, and the third is to step up employee training. CN acquired B.C. Rails equipment when it acquired the rights to the Crown-owned railway in 2004, and training is required to insure that CN employees are familiar with that equipment.
McIntyre said she and the ministers were encouraged by the meeting.
"CN is looking very seriously at their own operations, and had already taken steps. They are also proceeding with their investigations, as are we, and we should have that information soon," she said.
Penner was also reassured by CN that the company intends to pay for the long-term redmediation efforts necessary for the Cheakamus River.
McIntyre says she is already in contact with CN regarding eight different issues along the rail line from West Vancouver to Pemberton on behalf of her constituents, and that CN is responding to those issues in writing.