January 14, 2014 3:10 am

Coal train derailment in B.C. highlights debate over expanding industry

Watch: Unfiltered - Who is to blame for the train derailment in Burnaby and are we doing enough about train safety?

A coal train derailment in Burnaby, B.C. Saturday is highlighting the debate over rail safety and the expanding coal industry in the province.

The 152-car Canadian Pacific Railway train went off its tracks at Government Street and Brighton Avenue just before 11 a.m. causing seven cars to derail. Three cars toppled over and several other cars were damaged, but no one was injured, according to Mounties.

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CP spokesperson Ed Greenberg confirmed the train was carrying metallurgical or thermal coal and travelling from the Kootenays to Vancouver.

Mounties said some coal spilled into a nearby creek and environmental agencies were called to the scene.

The tracks and the crew on the train are managed by the Canadian National Railway Company and therefore will be leading the investigation and dealing with removing the train and cleanup. The Transportation Safety Board and CP are also responding and traffic in the area was affected for several hours.

Officials are investigating what caused the train to go off its rails, but Mounties said early indications suggest rain may have washed out the ground below the tracks.

A heavy rainstorm hit B.C.’s South Coast Friday night, causing flooding and power outages.

Environmental group Voters Taking Action on Climate Change said the accident highlights problems with the proposed expansion of the Fraser Surrey Docks, which would handle up to four million metric tonnes of coal and increase train traffic significantly.

There has been significant community concern about more coal travelling through the communities of South Surrey, White Rock, Surrey, New Westminster and Burnaby and Fraser Health has called for a comprehensive health impact assessment to determine the impacts of the project.

READ MORE: British Columbians fear expanding coal industry poses health hazards

If the project is approved, thermal coal will travel to the new facility from the U.S. where it will be shipped on barges to Texada Island and sent on to markets overseas.

“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,” said VTACC spokesperson Kevin Washbrook.

Last year, Port Metro Vancouver approved the expansion of Neptune Terminals in North Vancouver, allowing the coal export facility to more than double its capacity, despite intense opposition from environmentalists. 

VTACC said the train that derailed was carrying Teck coal from mines in eastern B.C. to Neptune Terminals.

IN DEPTH: Coal development in B.C. 

Transport by rail has become a contentious topic across the country after a train containing crude oil derailed and exploded in Lac-Megantic, Que., in July, killing 47 people, and another train exploded without injuries recently in North Dakota.

On Tuesday, 17 cars derailed near Wapske, New Brunswick, a town about five kilometres outside Plaster Rock. Five of them were carrying crude oil that was destined for an Irving Oil refinery in Saint John.

Last week, B.C. premier Christy Clark and Alberta premier Alison Redford announced they are examining the idea of transporting oilsands’ crude via rail if proposed pipelines don’t get the green light.

It’s a move environmental group ForestEthics calls “underhanded.”

It’s a “backdoor way for industry to bring tankers to the coast without the same sort of public oversight or public process that we’ve had around the Enbridge pipeline or would have around the Kinder Morgan pipeline,” said Ben West, campaign director for ForestEthics.

READ MORE: Rail safety in Canada 

The joint provincial working group will develop recommendations related to energy exports and the opening of new export markets for products like bitumen for the two provinces, including pipeline and rail transport.

With files from the Canadian Press

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