Langley is ‘as ready as can be’ for potential rail disaster

Deadly Quebec derailment, explosion serves a cautionary tale for towns along tracks

A train advertising fireworks passed through Langley in March, 2013. The safety of rail transport is top of mind for Canadians after an explosion in Quebec on Saturday killed at least 13 people and left as many as 50 others missing.

Langley is as ready as it can be, with all full-time and on-call firefighters trained in case a major train derailment took place here carrying dangerous, flammable goods.

“We do some training with a conglomerate of rail companies,” said Bruce Ferguson, Township assistant fire chief. “They bring in a tank car and show us what to watch out for, what to be aware of.”

But the Township fire department has dealt with at least two derailments before so they have the experience, said Ferguson.

The most recent derailment took place Dec. 23, 2002, when a freight train derailed along Glover Road in Milner, at Smith Crescent.

A gravel truck tried to beat the train at the crossing, which did not have lights and crossing gates,  and the train clipped it, sending one car towards Glover and others stacking onto each other. It also took down power lines.

One engine was destroyed in the wreck.

An explosive train derailment in downtown Lac-Megantic, Que., on Saturday, raises the question in places like Langley, where rail traffic passes through busy intersections of town all day, including 200 Street, Fraser Highway and the Langley Bypass.

In Quebec, the train was carrying 72 tank cars of crude oil. The derailment caused a massive explosion that, as of Monday afternoon, had killed 13. More than 50 others remain missing. It forced more than 2,000 out of their homes, and levelled at least 30 buildings in the downtown area.

In Langley, crude oil isn’t being transported through Langley City or along Glover Road and Langley Bypass, on the Canadian Pacific tracks, but a small amount of it does pass through the Fort Langley CN line from time to time.

On Feb. 15, 1986, a CN Rail freight train carrying liquid chemicals derailed just east of Fort Langley north of River Road, resulting in a 247,500 litre spill of ethylene dichloride and 60,000 litres of sodium hydroxide.

Within a few hours, the spilled chemical had seeped into the ground. The spill is still being cleaned up today, and cleanup will continue for many years to come.

“In that situation, the weather was in our favour,” said Ferguson. The derailment took place in winter.

“The ignition point of those explosive fluids is 56 degrees Fahrenheit, and it was 46 degrees that day.”

Train loads of crude oil aren’t yet rolling through Metro Vancouver for export, but there’s growing speculation that could come, particularly if proposed new pipelines are rejected.

Small amounts of crude have come by truck or train to Chevron’s Burnaby refinery at times when it was unable to get enough supply from the over-subscribed Trans Mountain pipeline.

A significant amount of propane is moved by rail, and in Langley it moves along the CN line.

Other chemicals that move on rail in this region include chlorine, hydrochloric acid and sodium hydroxide, which spilled from CN rail cars into the Cheakamus River in 2005, killing half a million fish.

Langley City fire chief Rory Thompson said dangerous and hazardous chemicals being transported on trains is on their radar and has been incorporated into both Langleys’ Emergency Planning Program, with a planned response.

“Our firefighters have been trained in rail car safety and we are getting tank car safety training in September or October,” he said.

While he calls the explosion from the train derailment in Quebec “unique and devastating,” he said, trains carry some chemicals of concern, mainly propane, which is heavier than air and dissipates slowly.

— With files from Jeff Nagel,

Black Press

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