White Rock mayor says accident inevitable following landslides

WHITE ROCK — Mayor Wayne Baldwin is concerned that the city’s emergency department is not being told about landslides occurring just outside city borders, despite the danger posed to White Rock.

Baldwin said two recent slides in January are further proof that the rail corridor coming up from the U.S. through White Rock and into Surrey is "an accident waiting to happen."

"What it does do is point out the exact reasons we want to see the rail line relocated," said Baldwin. "It’s not just a passing fancy that there’s an issue that’s ongoing and it’s not stopping, in fact it will probably get worse."

The issue of rail safety in White Rock has been at the forefront of community concerns in recent years. The issues stem from an increase in rail traffic and train lengths as well as increases in dangerous cargo such as chlorine, hydrochloric acid and petroleum byproducts.

And with two slide incidents already on the books for 2015, Baldwin said it’s inevitable that there’s going to be an accident.

However, Gus Melonas, spokesman for rail operator Burlington Northern Sante Fe said the two slides in January were minor and did not require Surrey or White Rock to be notified.

Crescent Beach slide
A recent slide in Crescent Beach on Jan. 25. (Photo: Erik Seiz)

"There’s no significant threat to operations and the community," he said. "These were relatively minor in scale and we were alerted by our slide indicator fences that something happened."

If BNSF had deemed the slides significant, explained Melonas, the protocol would have been to put a moratorium on passenger operations for 48 hours, and begin freight operations once the debris was removed.

"We have experts that monitor that right of way, so they’re trained and if there’s an event that we felt was necessary that we felt the public should be aware of then we do that," he said.

Asked about the frequency of slides, the BNSF spokesman said they average around five per year along the White Rock and South Surrey corridor.

"Far and away the most troublesome would be the corridor between Seattle and Everett," he said.

Melonas also noted that BNSF owns the land the rail line sits on and said they would notify the affected municipalities of what they deemed to be "significant slides.

"However, the slides we’ve experienced in the past decade have not warranted contact with outside agencies as they’ve been light in volume," he said.

But Baldwin said that’s not good enough. Adding to the mayor’s concerns is the fact that the city is not notified of what materials are being shipped through the community until after the fact, something they’ve taken up with Transport Canada, to no avail. That in and of itself, said Baldwin, means White Rock emergency response crews would be going into a derailment situation without knowing the dangers.

"We would be responding quickly and may or may not get word from Burlington Northern that there was a chlorine spill or acid spill, so our guys would be scrambling over the rocks trying to figure out what they’re trying to deal with."

The slides, Baldwin pointed out, also come at a time when Crescent Beach is experiencing an increasing number of uncoupling incidents, where trains become disconnected and sometimes block access to Crescent Beach.

"That says to me that we’ve got a problem here guys," he said.

cpoon@thenownewspaper.com

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