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SLRD calls for train length limit in the Fraser Canyon

Access will not be denied to residents accessing property via private crossings

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"I’m not going to have 10 more derailments."

— Squamish councilor Raj Kahlon

The Aug. 5 CN derailment in the Cheakamus Canyon has resulted in the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District calling for limits to the length of trains.

The motion, put forth by Squamish Mayor Ian Sutherland, calls for the limit to be in effect until the Transport Canada report determining the safety of the rail line comes down.

The approved motion is a watered down version of what director Raj Kahlon, a Squamish councilor, initially put forth. Kahlon asked for an indefinite reduction in train size to 90 cars. Kahlon told fellow board members that he arrived at this figure based on the length of trains BC Rail has operated on the tracks.

"I’m not going to have 10 more derailments," said Kahlon. "This canyon is a unique, different environment. We talk about protecting it all the time. And then an election comes and we back down."

The director went on to say that it is not the SLRD’s responsibility to provide CN with proof that limiting the number of cars will work; rather it is the railway’s responsibility to prove that the suggestion will not remedy the situation.

Director Greg Kaneka, mayor of Lillooet, was equally passionate about the disaster potential a derailment would have on Lillooet, given the community’s geography, notably a steep vertical slope where a derailment would be more likely to occur. In the event of derailment, access to both of the town’s bridges would be blocked.

"The train would virtually trap people there, they’d have to walk out," said Kaneka.

Potential derailment aside, all the directors made the point that trains upwards of 144 cars were resulting in unacceptable rail crossing delays.

"I’ve been stuck up to 20 minutes," said director Mickey Macri of Area B.

Area C director, Susie Gimse, echoed this as a concern of her constituents, saying that between D’Arcy and Mount Currie people were having to wait for more than one crossing of the same train. She also pointed out that there were reports of people climbing over and pushing bikes through when trains had stopped at the tracks.

Additionally, waits of up to 20 minutes could seriously affect emergency vehicles, with accidents and health incidents having more dire outcomes. The SLRD board agreed to forward letters outlining their positions on both the issues of train length and public safety, while pursuing a meeting with CN.

Earlier this year, area residents who cross the tracks to access their property received letters saying such crossings would be removed effective September 2005.

According to an e-mail from a representative of CN’s Engineering Services, Theresa Doolittle, this is no longer the case. At present, crossings will only be removed with consent of the property owners.

Reached in her Calgary office, Doolittle said the main issue with the private crossing is that they do not currently conform to Transport Canada standards. Information on making non-conforming crossings compliant with the regulations necessary for lines traveled by CN will be made available to affected individuals at a later date.

"I can’t say when we’ll send out more information," said Doolittle, who added the central issues are installing appropriate crossing signage and affording sufficient clearing.

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