City council concerned for railway safety

City council will hold a special meeting next month to hear from Canadian Pacific Railway about cuts to local safety inspector positions.

Concerned with rail safety in Cranbrook, city council will hold a special meeting next month to hear from Canadian Pacific Railway about cuts to local safety inspector positions.

On Monday, September 9, Mayor Wayne Stetski recommended that council invite Rick Poznikoff, CP Rail community relations, to speak to council in October.

Last month, the Townsman reported that CP Rail has cut four out of seven specialized safety inspectors, known as railway carmen, based in Cranbrook.

Union officials told the paper that this staffing level does not allow every train to be inspected by carmen, which raises concerns about dangerous goods passing through Cranbrook bound for the West Kootenay.

“Initially, I was quite concerned with these cuts and quite willing to write a letter or whatever it took, and we may still want to do that,” Mayor Stetski said on Monday. “The suggestion here is that perhaps we give CP Rail the opportunity to come and speak with us directly before we write those letters.”

In a letter to Cranbrook council, fire chief Wayne Price explained that CP Rail had reassured him that it continues to meet or exceed federal requirements.

“(Poznikoff) explained that all railcars are inspected where they originate as well as enroute in Calgary, Lethbridge and Golden. He explained that they also have in-line rail safety features located every 20-25 miles as well as wheel impact load detectors on the rail cars,” wrote Chief Price.

In a separate letter to council, Price expressed confidence in CP Rail’s safety measures.

“The historical number and severity of local incidents show no evidence that the rail line within the city corridor poses a major concern,” he wrote.

The fire chief wrote that hazardous material spills pose the greatest risk to Cranbrook. However, this risk is greatest when trains are travelling at high speeds. Trains through Cranbrook have a maximum speed limit of 10 miles per hour, and they often travel slower than that.

“I would suggest that as a result of the low speed in the city corridor, and the current railcar designs, risk of a major hazmat incident within the city is minimal,” wrote Chief Price.w

Councillors Whetham, Cross and Warner all expressed concern that railway companies self-regulate.

“Just the notion of the fox being in charge of the chicken coop when it comes to the regulations: what kind of regulations do you think a fox would have if it was left in charge of a chicken coop? It’s the same thing here. If there are federal regulations, but it’s up to the industry to self regulate, it’s hard to be confident in that,” said Coun. Warner.

At the same meeting, Coun. Cross brought up the rail safety issue to Kootenay-Columbia MP David Wilks, asking what the federal government can do to protect residents and the environment from harm caused by railway accidents.

MP Wilks said he would take Cranbrook’s concerns to Lisa Raitt, Federal Minister of Transport, adding that his riding contains some of the busiest rail lines in the country.

“It’s important that we have rail safety at a premium here and ensure that the goods that are going all around the world from here get there in a safe and efficient manner.”

A date for the special council meeting with CP Rail has not yet been set.