The Town of Coaldale conducted a training exercise on Thursday to prepare for a disaster in the event of a dangerous goods spill due to a train derailment.
This summer marked four years since railway cars carrying crude oil derailed in Lac-Mégantic, Que. Forty-seven people were killed and hundreds of millions of dollars were spent in cleanup costs.
It’s a worst-case scenario the Alberta town is preparing for.
“It’s extremely important to be trained. This is not something you can just throw together and in the heat of the moment know what to do,” Coaldale fire chief Kevin McKeown said.
Dangerous goods are constantly transported across CP Rail tracks in Alberta. Just weeks ago, six cars carrying crude oil went off the tracks in Coalhurst, causing a minor spill which crews quickly got under control.
Coaldale has never had a train derail within town limits, but McKeown said there are at least two close calls a year.
“Usually it’s vehicles versus trains, so semi trucks or vehicles trying to get through an intersection before it’s safe to do so,” McKeown said. “The potential is there for large scale disaster at some point.”
Town officials spent much of Thursday’s simulated response relaying information they get from frontline workers to the public, which included a mock conference call with school representatives, medical officials and a number of other agencies.
Coaldale’s director of emergency management Mark Murphy said you can never be too prepared for a disaster.
“Right from the get go we had a couple phone lines that didn’t work,” Murphy said. “These are things we’re testing all the time, but sometimes you miss stuff.”
Murphy said the town already has experience in dealing with floods and grass fires, and plans to do a live train derailment exercise in 2019.