What are the risks, what are our chances?

One can only imagine the devastation a train disaster would cause to the downtown core

As devastating as it truly is, the recent train disaster in Lac-Megantic, Que., should be a reminder, or more importantly, a “wake-up call” to Hope residents that such a tragedy could happen in our beautiful town.

I’m not an alarmist, nor an activist, but like you I’m well aware of the huge trains that roll though Hope every day. Most of them are now in excess of two miles in length (CP now boasts their new intermodal trains are in excess of four km), and most of them running through at their fully allowed speed limit of 80 km/h, (sometimes slower depending on rail traffic conditions in the next division west).

One can only imagine, once seeing the horrific consequences of human or equipment error in Lac-Megantic, what such devastation would cause to our downtown core. How long would it take for one of these mammoth high-speed trains to come to a complete halt, whether through a deliberate panic stop by the engineer, or, God forbid, a derailment. Two miles I’m told by one train employee – certainly more than the distance from 6th. Ave to Water Street.

Stand near one of our crossings, not too close mind you, perhaps at 6th Ave. or 3rd Ave., and, as that train roars by you, imagine all those millions of tons of railcars rolling down the right of way uncontrollably. Imagine the lives immediately lost, and those in the impending fires that would no doubt follow. Imagine what our downtown core would look like once the fires are extinguished and the demolished railcars removed.

And what can we do about it? Not too much unfortunately. Perhaps write our MLA (no laughing – I’m serious now), or how about our MP in Ottawa? Do we have to wait for a disaster to happen before something is done?

We’ll never be able to get the rails redirected around Hope as there’s no room – obviously (at least the CN tracks which sever our beautiful town in two). Maybe we can get CN and CP to shorten their trains (that’ll never happen what with the new 4400HP units on line now). How about reducing their speed limit – a speed limit set by the railroads – (you have NO say in that)?

Perhaps we can apply pressure on our responsible leaders to dissuade crude oil traffic from railroads – in B.C. at least. Crude oil ignited the devastating fires which destroyed Lac-Megantic, Que.  – a quiet town of 6000 much the same size of Hope. Shipping crude by rail has now reached Lloydminster, Sask., a key enhancement to CP’s growing energy portfolio and accommodates the transportation needs of NuStar Energy LP.  NuStar’s President and CEO Curt Anastasio was quoted in a CP release that “We believe that moving undiluted heavy Canadian crude by rail to coastal markets is an economically viable solution that brings added value to the end users, as well as the producers in Canada.”

Crude oil trains in Eastern Canada are now “one-man trains” – just an engineer! Edward Burkhardt, chief executive officer of Rail World Inc., based in Chicago, Ill., which owns the MMA railway (the one that destroyed Lac-Megantic) told the distraught citizens of that town “We actually think one-man crews are safer than two-man crews because there’s less distraction.” He then put the blame on the one crew member and attempted to appease the citizens of Lac-Megantic by telling them that the employee has been suspended (gee, that’ll make them feel better).

That new pipeline idea is starting to look good. Even Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in a speech in New York as part of his hard sell to gain approval in Washington for the Keystone pipeline, questioned the comparative safety of crude by rail, calling it “more environmentally challenging.”

Right now it seems like a “no-win” situation for the residents of Hope. All we can do is hope and pray that a Lac-Megantic disaster never happens here, and that our elected officials at least show some concern (they WILL at election time to be sure). CN and CP will NOT listen!

Ray Daws