Benson crossing file photo

Rail safety concerns continue to ring through the North

Provincial grant for Benson crossing to help Houston

The recent provincial funding for rail safety in Houston is being welcomed, but there continue to be other concerns around rail safety that are yet to be addressed.

Earlier this month, an announcement from Transport Canada stated that the District of Houston was all set to receive a $408, 368 grant as part of the $21 million in rail safety projects.

“The rail safety funding will help the District of Houston install railway crossing arms on Benson Avenue and make the crossing safer for the community,” said Mayor Shane Brienen.

The desire for the Benson Ave. project has been on the District’s agenda for several years, a result of concerns from residents and business owners on the north side of the CN tracks.

Dawn Remington, chair for Friends of Morice Bulkley, a Smithers-based group that has been vocal about rail concerns in the north, was one such concerned member of the society who welcomed the news of this grant but continues to fight for more that needs to be done in terms of rail safety.

“Houston receiving funding for safety upgrades for rail crossings is great news. Across northern BC, towns are seeking funding for gates and warning signals at rail crossings and bolstering training and protective equipment for their volunteer fire departments. This is because of the increase in hazardous flammable liquids being carried on the CN rail line. So-called ‘unit trains’ entirely made up of black tank cars were first seen in 2019 with the commissioning of the first propane export terminal at Prince Rupert,” he said.

The transport of hazardous substance has been a major concern for residents in the north especially after an additional propane export terminal was started up and others are undergoing regulatory review.

Remington said that with Vopak Pacific proposing to export propane, methanol, gasoline, diesel and other petroleum liquids on the CN rail line, if all proposals move forward, the CN line will be carrying 230 pressurized propane and 180 tank cars of petroleum liquids per day through the towns and along the rivers. “This equates to approximately four unit trains per day of hazardous flammable products,” he added.

Last month, on May 20, Skeena-Bulkley Valley NDP MP Taylor Bachrach held a rail safety town hall on Zoom which he said was not about bashing the rail sector but ensuring that reasonable concerns by reasonable people are brought forward. The town hall saw over 90 participants from Prince Rupert to Burns Lake discussing the concerns around rail safety.

The town hall saw similar concerns being raised around the transportation of hazardous substances and the proximity of the railway lines to the communities.

“Rail Safety is something we are talking about in parliament. One of the things we have managed to do recently is get a parliamentary hearing in to rail safety in Canada,” he said during the town hall.

The parliamentary hearing will be taking place this month, a date for which is not known at this time.

– With files from Rod Link

Priyanka Ketkar
Multimedia journalist

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