Rail safety questionned

Parksville Mayor Chris Burger concerned about trains crossing Englishman River

Two or three times a month, freight trains roll across the bridge spanning the Englishman River.

What’s in those box cars? What are the safety conditions of the track and the bridge? What kind of liability insurance, if any, is in play for the City of Parksville if an accident occurs and threatens the city’s water supply?

Mayor Chris Burger says he is not getting answers to these questions from the Island Corridor Foundation. Burger says he’s not getting a whole lot of answers to any of his ICF-related questions and he wants that to change.

“A number of us (municipal politicians) have lost confidence in the ICF,” Burger said Monday. “We want to become much more involved.”

The city has a representative on the Regional District of Nanaimo board of directors, Coun. Marc Lefevbre. The RDN is one of the partners in the ICF project to re-start rail service on Vancouver Island, but Burger said neither he nor Lefevbre can get answers to the questions they pose to the ICF.

“I don’t have a clear line of communication any longer with the ICF,” said Burger. “We’ve allowed this to operate too long at arms length and we need to bring it back in.”

Parksville council passed a resolution last week that empowers Lefevbre to ask specific questions about liability and insurance coverage related to the portion of track that runs through the city. Council also wants the ICF to confirm in writing that the rails meet all applicable safety standards. Could the tracks be a disaster waiting to happen? Could chemicals or other materials end up in the city’s water supply after a rail accident?

“There is a concern that might be the case but I’m not an engineer,” said Burger. “But I’ve walked the tracks.”

The project manager for infrastructure improvement for Southern Rail told The NEWS on Monday the track in Parksville and the Englishman River bridge are inspected regularly and meet provincial and federal safety standards.

“We are preparing a formal response to the mayor,” said Don McGregor. “I’m definitely saying it’s safe.”

Southern Rail operates the railway on Vancouver Island under contract with the ICF.

McGregor said aside from regular, visual inspections, the rails and bridge are subject to annual ultra-sonic testing. Safety standards for passenger and freight operation differ. There are also speed considerations, explained McGregor.

“We lowered the freight speed to ensure that we are complying with all the safety standards,” he said, adding that Burger should get answers to his questions this week.

There are 48 bridges on the line from Victoria to Courtenay and McGregor said “we have the same concern for safety on all of the bridges.”

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