Coal Train Derailment Highlights Need For More Oversight Of Port Expansion

By Roy L Hales

Vancouver — Heavy rain may have caused a 152-car coal train, heading for Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver, to derail in Burnaby this afternoon. Seven cars went off the tracks near Government and Cariboo Roads, near Burnaby Lake. Three of the cars spilled their loads.  As you can see from the photo above, at least one of these emptied its load into a protected waterway. No one was injured.

Emily Hamer, a spokeswoman for CN, said she did not know how much of the coal went into the water or whether CP or CN, which owns the tracks, is responsible for the derailment of the 152-car train.

“The incident is under investigation at this time,” she said. “CN and CP are on site, and environmental crews have been mobilized to assess the impact and implement an appropriate response plan.”

Ken Hall, professor emeritus with the Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability at the University of B.C., says submerged coal dust could upset the balance of an aquaculture, and that water fowl could be indirectly affected if they coal-contaminated marine life. However, he also notes that a coal spill would not be nearly as detrimental as an oil or gas spill.<

BC’s Lower Mainland has become one of North America’s principal  coal terminals.  The Westshore terminal at Roberts Bank, in Delta, is already the largest export facility on the Pacific coast. Last year, Port Metro approved a $200 million expansion of Neptune Terminal’s coal handling facility in North Vancouver.

This will increase Neptune’s coal export capacity from approximately 9 million tonnes/yr capacity to 18.5 million tonnes a year. As approximately 6 million tonnes/year are passing through the port, this gives Neptune the capacity to triple it’s coal exports.

According to Kevin Washburn, of Voters Taking Action on Climate Change,  the Port Authority rushed through its decision on the Neptune expansion in January of 2013 despite growing opposition and demands for public hearings and a health impact assessment of the proposal.

In late 2013 North Vancouver city council passed a motion calling on the Port Authority to conduct a health impact assessment of the Neptune decision.  The Port Authority has not responded to this request.

Washburn issued a press release saying, “The accident today in Burnaby highlights a fundamental flaw in decision making around expanded coal exports in Metro Vancouver .”

“The Port Authority has absolute power to approve expanded coal exports from publicly owned Port lands, and it refuses to acknowledge that those decisions have an impact on surrounding communities. Whether it’s the health impacts from increased exposure to diesel exhaust or coal dust or train derailments themselves, increased coal exports come at a cost to our neighbourhoods.  Local and regional governments and our health authorities deserve a say in these decisions.”

VTACC and other organizations continue to call on the Port Authority to hold full public hearings and comprehensive health impact assessments on both the Neptune and Fraser Surrey Docks decisions.

( Photo Above:  Coal car turned over in today’s spill – courtesy Voters Taking Action on Climate Change)

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