Category Archives: Local Regulation

Mayor wants to know when trains carry hazardous goods through his town

Repost from the Vancouver Sun

Mayor wants to know when trains carry hazardous goods through his town

By Glenda Luymes, September 21, 2017 8:04 PM PDT

The train tracks running through Vanderhoof helped build the community on the banks of the Nechako River. But some fear they could one day ruin it.

When local politicians meet for the annual Union of B.C. Municipalities conference in Vancouver next week, they’ll consider a resolution drafted by the District of Vanderhoof calling on Transport Canada to order railways to provide “up-to-the-minute” information on hazardous goods being transported through their communities.

The information would enable first responders to safely address derailments and spills, explained Vanderhoof chief administrative officer Tom Clement.

“If we don’t know what trains are carrying, how can we respond?” he asked.

While Canadian railways are required to provide reports on what trains carry, they are usually produced several months after the fact, leaving municipalities to guess what might be rolling through town on any given day.

According to a report by Canadian National Railway (which operates the line through Vanderhoof), shipments of dangerous goods accounted for three per cent of the total CN shipments in B.C. in 2016. Liquefied petroleum gases, diesel fuel and sodium hydroxide made up more than half of all dangerous shipments.

Like many, Vanderhoof Mayor Gerry Thiessen was shocked by the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster. On July 6, 2013, a 74-car freight train carrying crude oil operated by the United States-based Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway derailed in the small Quebec town. Fire and several explosions killed 47 people.

But it was a smaller incident — a minor derailment near Vanderhoof several years ago — that first got the mayor thinking about the safety of his community.

“Someone from the Prince George press called our fire chief to ask about the accident. They wanted to know what the cars were carrying. We had no idea,” he said.

With a volunteer fire department made up of “local dads and moms,” Thiessen realized a significant incident could endanger first responders, as well as the community at large.

“CN is a large company. They should be able to tell us day-by-day what’s in a train as it leaves Prince George,” he said.

Thiessen said he was told CN’s closest dangerous goods officer was located in Edmonton, meaning “our volunteers would be the first on scene.”

A CN spokesperson referred Postmedia to the Railway Association of Canada.

A statement from the association said its members work with municipalities and the federal government to achieve a “workable process” to ensure information about dangerous goods traffic is available. A mobile app allows first responders to access information about railcar contents so “they can make informed decisions in the event of a rail emergency.”

Thiessen said the process requires first responders to obtain a code from the side of a damaged train car, which might put them at risk if the cars are leaking hazardous substances.

“We need a better process,” he said.

But while the mayor is concerned about safety, he also recognizes the vital role the railway plays in his community.

“I’m in Vanderhoof as a result of the railway,” he said.

Thiessen’s grandfather settled in the community west of Prince George in 1942 to take advantage of the opportunities the railway presented. Thirty years later, as a young man, Thiessen had a part-time job unloading the railcars that carried lumber out of town.

These days, there are more trains coming through Vanderhoof, he said, but fewer stop. There’s also fear that what they might be carrying could someday undo all the good the railway has done.

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How Benicia Valero Crude By Rail was defeated

Reflections by Roger Straw, Benicia CA, November 18, 2016

We Won!  3 (or 10 or 12, or 40?) factors…

What happened in Benicia was amazing. It’s well worth our time as community activists and organizers to reflect a bit on how David went up against Goliath and won.  (Continued…)

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FAIRFIELD DAILY REPUBLIC: Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan

Repost from the Fairfield Daily Republic

Top 10 Stories of 2016: Benicia derails Valero’s oil-transport plan

By Daily Republic staff From page A1 | January 01, 2017
Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)
Tank cars sit on the railroad tracks, near Cordelia Road and Chadbourne Road on January 1, 2016. (Robinson Kuntz/Daily Republic file)

BENICIA — City Hall reverberated from the cheers when the City Council in September voted unanimously to turn down a Valero plan that would have allowed up to 70,000 barrels of crude oil to be shipped by rail to its refinery.

It is a topic that also made the Daily Republic’s top stories list in 2015.

Valero receives its crude oil by ship, and wanted to employ the less expensive rail option.

What ultimately became a simple land-use decision for the council, turned Benicia into one of the latest battlegrounds on the environmental and urban safety debate over transporting crude oil by rail.

Proponents noted the advances in railcar safety and emergency service preparedness, while opponents pointed to all the disasters – many deadly – that have occurred, some during the local debate.

Valero had applied for a permit to add additional rail, pipeline and to make other changes to its off-loading capabilities at the refinery, a request denied by the city Planning Commission in February. A series of public hearings were held before the City Council, but a decision was delayed while Valero took its case to the federal Surface Transportation Board, arguing the city lacked authority to make the decision.

The agency, just hours prior to the council’s decision, ruled that the city was not addressing a transportation issue, which would have triggered the long-held rail pre-emption laws, but rather was addressing the permit application only.

Valero, which represents about 25 percent of all local city tax revenue, has not indicated what its next move might be.

The Valero oil refinery operates, Friday, Sept. 25, 2015, in Benicia.(Daily Republic file)

 

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