Relocating the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway could cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more, but an underpass in Crescent Beach could cost just $35 million, according to a House of Commons standing committee report adopted this week.
The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities made a series of recommendations on rail safety, and urged Transport Canada to require rail companies to provide real-time knowledge of dangerous goods to first responders, and develop an advanced notification system developed in consultation with communities.
The committee studied the safety of the section of the BNSF line that runs from the U.S. border through South Surrey and White Rock, as well as the Lac-Mégantic rail accident in Quebec in 2013.
A City of White Rock representative called on the federal government to confirm the section of track that runs along Crescent Beach and Ocean Park complies with the Railway Safety Act, to investigate the stoppage of the trains that block access to Crescent Beach, to change grade-crossing rules that sanction the current situation and to support the relocation of the railway pursuant to the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act.
The line along the beach in South Surrey has been running since 1909, and there’s been a dramatic increase in rail traffic, including the volume of dangerous goods being transported, and the length of the trains, the committee was told.
Concerns were raised about the stability of the terrain under the rails, with particular concern about trains that stand in urban crossings for long periods, blocking access for residents and first responders.
Relocating the line would be “very, very expensive,” a BNSF Railway representative testified to the committee, suggesting a cheaper alternative might include building an underpass, which would cost $35 million or more.
A Canadian Transportation Agency representative said that a rail relocation could cost hundreds of millions of dollars or more and that no applications under the Rail Crossing and Relocation Act have been made since 1987. Applicants must also meet a financial condition that a relocation or rerouting occurs at “no net cost” to the railway company.
The committee recommended that Transport Canada immediately pursue legislative and/or regulatory structures to ensure first responders are notified about dangerous goods via cellular or Internet services, and that other means of communication be studied to provide advanced notification in communities outside cellular range.
The committee also recommended Transport Canada:
• require rail companies to implement long-term plans to mitigate environmental impacts, including ongoing destabilization of slopes, mudslides, flooding, extreme weather conditions and floodplain issues;
• undertake frequent, interactive and publicly visible inspections of railway operations in communities where they have been major incidents to mitigate ongoing fears;
• require effective signage at unmarked passive railway crossings that have been identified as most dangerous, and that the cost “not be place upon local government or ratepayers.”
Ottawa was also asked to accelerate a five-year statutory review of the Railway Safety Act prior to 2018.