April 23, 2014 7:24 am

City concerned train delays slowing emergency response times

Watch above: train delays frustrate drivers and emergency services

SASKATOON – It’s common to see trains passing through Saskatoon on a daily basis, interrupting traffic and adding drive time to the commute of hundreds of residents.

New data indicates those trains may also be impacting emergency response times in our city.

The data was collected from four locations on these dates this year:

  • Idylwyld Drive and 25th Street on Jan. 2 and 14 (CP)
  • 11th Street and Dundonald Avenue on Jan. 29, March 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23 and 24 (CN)
  • 33rd Street and Edmonton Avenue on Jan. 29 (CN)
  • 33rd Street and Warman Road on Jan. 27 (CP).

How long were the major traffic interruptions?

Idylwyld and 25th Street

  • Jan. 17 at 8 a.m. for 8 minutes and 51 seconds
  • Jan. 17 at 1:30 p.m. for 7 minutes 15 seconds
  • Jan. 17 at 10 p.m. for 9 minutes 46 seconds

11th Street and Dundonald Avenue

  • Jan. 29 at noon for 21 minutes
  • March 16 at 2 p.m. for 25 minutes on spur line
  • March 21 at 7 a.m. for 10 minutes
  • March 24 at 6 a.m. for 23 minutes
  • March 24 at noon for 54 minutes on spur line

A spur line is defined as a small branch line that is often used for loading, unloading or marshalling a train. In this case the spur line also crosses a roadway.

Armed with these statistics, Mayor Don Atchison and fire Chief Dan Paulsen jetted to Ottawa Tuesday for another meeting of the Rail Safety Working Group.

“We need to have a safest route,” said Atchison, “one safe route for all the trains to be able to use. That would mean the national carriers would have to co-share lines through communities.”

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The mayor plans to introduce this idea at the meeting where representatives from across the country will be. Paulsen will accompany him with concerns of his own.

“It happens a number of times a month that we have our crews are stuck on one side,” said Paulsen, noting a particular incident that occurred on Feb. 14.

Late that afternoon a massive fire at a Canadian Tire warehouse in the Sutherland neighbourhood broke out. It required the resources of every fire hall in the city to battle the dangerous inferno.

When the alarm bells sounded, the main access on Central Avenue was blocked by a train, leaving emergency response teams to find a different route.

The Rail Safety Working Group formed in 2013 after the rail disaster in Lac Megantic, Que. In September, a train derailed near Landis, Sask.

April 18 marked a further delay in the Keystone XL project by the Obama administration – once again bringing rail safety front and centre.

“2005 there was 500 tank cars with bitumen oil going through. Right now we’re pushing over 130,000 so when you think about that volume, the propensity for issue is on the rise,” cautioned Paulsen.

“Food, fuel and fertilizer is what we’re all about,” said Atchison, “but on the same token, we want to make sure we have safe routes for those materials to be travelling on.”

The working group meets Wednesday.

Data will continue to be collected from rail crossings in Saskatoon to confirm statistics and concerns about emergency response times.

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