The Terrace resident who wants city council to better explain its emergency response plan in case of rail disasters says unanswered questions remain.
“It’s good that they’re posting the emergency plan, there’s been some dangerous goods training and they’re starting to ask some questions… but I do think [the city] could be more proactive,” says Anne Hill of the North West Watch.
On Feb. 11, the city responded to Hill’s requests for more information as an extra 350 rail cars carrying dangerous goods are expected to travel through Terrace per day in the coming years.
In a 10-page report submitted to council, fire chief and designated city emergency planning official John Klie said Terrace does have an emergency response plan for train derailments and that it could be posted for all to read on the city’s website.
When dealing with dangerous goods, the city’s plan takes an “all-hazard” approach that does not detail the impacts of specific materials.
“We don’t particularly pick one product like propane or diesel,” Klie says of the city’s response. “Depending on how bad the incident is, the management of that plan would either grow, expand or get smaller.”
Hill, in her initial presentation on Jan. 14, voiced frustration with the lack of information CN Rail was willing to disclose to the public regarding the volume and type of dangerous goods travelling through Terrace.
SkeenaWild’s request for this information was also denied, with CN Rail citing security reasons in a response letter. Those details would only be accessible to qualified emergency response officials, the letter reads.
Still, Klie says the city only knows details of what these rail cars contain after they pass through Terrace. But if something were to happen, emergency officials would have access to the information right away.
Hill believes the city should push to get access to information indicating what rolls through town daily because it has the authority and power to do so.
“If they can’t tell the emergency preparedness [officials] and first responders, who are they going to tell?” says Hill of CN. “It seems to me that you could lose lives in the time that it takes to find out what was in an exploded car.”
In the worst case scenario, there is the possibility that the downtown core, the firehall, the ambulance station and the RCMP detachment and the hospital would be affected by a large-scale blast, Klie says.
When asked what alternative plans exist if a rail disaster should block access to emergency services on both sides of the rail tracks, Klie says one incident would “probably not” affect all four possible crossings based on information from CN.
There is the Frank St. crossing, the Kenney St. crossing, the Sande Overpass and access by using the Old Skeena Bridge to get to the New Skeena Bridge.
“It’s very unlikely that the initial blast would level our area, so there would be time to evacuate [safely],” Klie said.
The day after Klie’s presentation to council, a detached lumber trailer not only closed the Sande Overpass for several hours, but regular CN traffic through Terrace closed off the Kenney St. and Frank St. crossings for periods of time.
Following Klie’s presentation to council, Hill said the response still does not address the elephant in the room — that all emergency services could be within the blast zone.
She was also unhappy with the province’s environmental assessment of the proposed Vopak fuel export facility in Prince Rupert, one of the developments that will put more cars containing dangerous goods on CN’s tracks, for not detailing potential effects on the City of Terrace and Skeena River.
Klie says changes to the assessment were made to better include input from First Nations and the general public, but he left it up to council to decide whether or not to push further.
The fire department does train with CN employees annually and participates in courses sponsored by CN Rail for derailments, including liquefied petroleum gas training, hazmat awareness and operations, and railway emergency response procedures.
All full-time firefighters in Terrace are trained on how to respond to rail incidents involving dangerous goods, and how to secure an accident site. All 18 volunteer firefighters have completed awareness training, and nine have completed operations training.
City firefighters will undertake at least two dangerous goods drills this year.
While Hill says she appreciates the training and planning that has been done, to be properly prepared, the city needs to know more about what to expect.
“If there is an explosion, and we don’t know what was in that car…it takes time to find that out. Then you’ve lost valuable seconds, minutes, that could cost people their lives,” she says.
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