Sunday, February 11, 2007

 

OFF THE RAILS, CTV W-Five: With a flatland train on mountainous track, CN ran 144 cars where B.C.Rail ran 80 - 100 cars.

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This was British Columbia's railway. We were promised it would never be sold. Now look.

OFF THE RAILS - CTV's W-Five
Feb. 10 2007
Patti-Ann Finlay

Engineer Gord Rhodes has been a railroader for more than 30 years. He figures he's made the trip from Williams Lake to Squamish more than 2,000 times. Like most experienced railway faithful, he knows what makes a safe train and what doesn't.

"We've done that trip so many times, it's not funny. Up and down the mountain. Switching and coming home," Rhodes says.

On June 29, 2006, Rhodes and two colleagues -- Tommy Dodd and Don Faulkner -- took a CN train trip that would change their lives forever.

"The reality was that we weren't coming out of it. We weren't gonna live," says Rhodes as he ponders what went wrong with Engine 9606. "Nobody was saying anything. 'Cause this isn't supposed to happen," Rhodes adds.

Suddenly the train Rhodes and his team were on gained incredible speed and began to careen out of control.

The safe speed limit on this section of track is 15 miles per hour. Closing in on 50 miles per hour the locomotive is racing along the steep curve - and then jumped the tracks.

"Well the engine, when it hit the ground....it flicked me off like a bug. And I went airborne and I tumbled and rolled. I could hear all this crashing and booming," Rhodes tells W-FIVE.

The locomotive had crashed down the mountainside. Tommy Dodd and Don Faulkner were dead. Only Rhodes was alive.

"I thought we were all dead. I didn't even know how I survived. I don't know. I was horrified," says Rhodes who worked with Dodd and Faulkner for 14 years.

Hard to believe -- especially after Faulkner's persistent safety questions to CN management. Known for his attention to safety, Faulkner enjoyed the nickname of "Mr. Safety." "He was always into safety," says Karen Hunt, Faulkner's high-school sweetheart and common-law wife.

Faulkner complained to CN and politicians about canceling mandatory safety meetings and for putting what he believed were unsafe trains on tracks. "He felt the lack of CN caring for their employees," says Hunt.

"The day before the accident he was in the office with my daughter and said he was concerned about engines with no dynamic brakes on the heels. He was on the phone with someone and said, 'what has to happen to someone, [do] they have to be killed before they do something about it'," Hunt tells W-FIVE.

It turns out the locomotive wasn't equipped with a very important safety measure called dynamic brakes and that CN was running a flatland train along mountainous track.

"It's a unit that should never be used in the mountains, it's not designed for the type of work that [it] was being used for. It's a prairie engine," says Rhodes.

Even more troubling is the internal CN document that suggests the prairie engine was 'overdue for servicing' and that there were 'no [brake] shoes left.'

Rhodes and others believe dynamic brakes would have saved the lives of Tommy Dodd and Don Faulkner. "If that was a unit that had dynamic braking and it was working, we would not be talking today. And my two friends would still be alive," Rhodes tells W-FIVE.

CN's derailment record is disturbing. In 2005, CN had an astonishing 103 main-track derailments in communities across Canada. That's an average of one derailment every three-and-a-half days.

Forty-three CN cars went off the tracks at Lake Wabamun, Alberta, on August 3, 2005, spilling more than 700,000 litres of bunker oil and wood preservative into the pristine lake. The Alberta Government charged CN with "'failing to take all reasonable measures to remedy and confine a spill," for the Wabamun derailment.

Two days later, on August 5, 2005, another CN train derailed over the Cheakamus River, just outside Squamish, dumping more than 40,000 litres of caustic soda -- a highly corrosive chemical used by the pulp industry. The spill killed nearly half a million fish.

"What we saw were fish experiencing chemical burns....some of them were trying to almost jump out of the river. They were trying to avoid the burns," says Chessy Knight, an aquatic biologist and environmental coordinator for the Squamish district.

When BC Rail was running along this track, they were 80 to 100 cars in length. The CN train that derailed above the Cheakamus River had 144 cars. Longer trains mean bigger profits.

Long-time transportation consultant Greg Gormick says profit-seeking may be behind some of the CN derailments. "Cost cutting that's gone perhaps too far to satisfy investors," Gormick tells W-FIVE.

Cost cutting that is leading to safety problems -- at least that's what Rhodes thinks. "Every train going through this country right now, it's a dice roll with CN," he says.

W-FIVE wanted to talk to CN about their safety history. After weeks of negotiating an interview date, CN agreed to talk to us, on camera -- only to back out of the interview the day before. Instead, CN sent us a seven-page letter extolling their safety record and commitment to safety.

Railway insiders say CN is not the only one to blame, and that government must bear some responsibility for the spike in accidents. Changes to railway legislation have taken power away from government -- yielding more authority to railway companies to develop their own safety schemes. "This is about failed transportation policy," says Gormick.

In recent months, Ottawa appears to have taken a keen interest in the number and severity of derailments. First in November an inquiry was called to investigate rail accidents in B.C. Then in December Transport Canada announced plans for a full review of the Railway Safety Act.

But any review or inquiry may be redundant when the Government probably already has the information they need about CN and railway safety in Canada. A Transport Canada safety audit of CN's practices has been kept secret for some time.

The safety audit, ordered in August 2005, was promised to be made public by the Liberals. Completed last year, the safety audit findings have not been released by the Conservative government. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon says that's because CN doesn't want it made public. "I would want it to be made public but I can't," Cannon tells W-FIVE.


Please see the full story with photos at: http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070209/wfive_derailments_070209/20070210?hub=WFive

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That last sentence is a stinger, isn't it? CN doesn't want the safety audit made public. Who's running this country, anyway?

So, in general terms, how is our old railway operating these days? Not up to its old standard, apparently.

The Gold River "Record" says: B.C. Rail kept the fences in good shape, and when cattle losses occurred, the ranchers were informed and got paid for the animals because it is the company's duty to keep cattle off the railway tracks. Not so, since CN took over. CN has an outrageous accident record. Cattle killed on the railway tracks are simply buried. The owners are not informed. The fences are not kept in good repair, no compensation is paid for losses, and when the ranchers try to make repairs themselves, they are ordered off the land "which is now part of the American empire".

And in their October 10/05 edition, the Williams Lake Tribune provides another view of our former B.C. Rail: CN apparently believes that it has no legal obligation to divulge their emergency preparedness plan, if any, for hazardous material spills.

Regional fire chiefs are sending letters to the federal government over the transportation of hazardous materials and potential spills.

But Doug Kittle, dangerous materials inspector for Transport Canada, said as long as the railway is transporting goods within Canada, there is no law obligating the company to share their emergency plan.

He added the 12-hour response time, which fire chiefs from across the North have deemed an unacceptable timeline, is only a rough possibility for certain types of hazardous materials.

Smithers' B.C. Ministry of Environment emergency officer, Norm Fallows, said the timeline for a response on a hazardous material spill depends on the type of product. He said for some products the wait for help could be longer and for others shorter.

"We have some equipment in our trucks," Fallows said. "But not enough for a big spill."

Here's another question: if the trial of Basi, Virk, and Basi proves that the "sale" of B.C. Rail was flawed and compromised, how are we going to feel? Perhaps we'd like to re-negotiate that deal. Perhaps we'd like to know that British Columbia is once again being well served by its own B.C. Rail.
- BC Mary.

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Comments:
I watched the program on Sunday afternoon.The company seems to be far more worried about the bottom line than the lives of their staff. Firing people for doing their job sometimes backfires. As one of the professionals speakig said. A private company makes a profit to keep the shareholders happy.
 
Wow.

I guess that pretty well answers a question that I asked awhile back, which was Does Privatization Kill?"

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Oh their bottom line will be all right. They've got enough tax write-offs for 25 years from the gift Gordon Campbell and the BC Government gave them along with BC Rail.

CN used to be a great railway company. Now it's a successful multi-national and a sad joke relative to its 'Canadian' name and proud history.

But Gordon and his friends are happy. At least until April.

After that...not so much maybe.

Well done Mary. Be nice if there is a steady stream of such stories in the weeks leading up to the trial...perhaps CN Rail should be in the dock along with the Basi Boys
 
Well ... that's my wish, Anon. The way I've always seen this whole thing shaping up is that the whole system of government in British Columbia goes on trial when Basi, Virk, and Basi go on trial. Next April 2nd, I hope.

I believe that the B.C. Rail Trial is the most important trial ever called to order in this province.

I believe that cameras should be in the courtroom so that everyone in B.C. can follow the evidence given under oath. So many people, whose lives are affected by B.C. Rail now CN, live up-country and can't possibly spend the time and money to be in Supreme Court each day for 3 months.

I believe, at very least, that we have the opportunity to report whatever is available, to help people follow the proceedings.

Many thanks to all who add to our understanding. It's appreciated more than you can imagine.
 
For example: just looking at some old, disconnected notes. Found this, copied from someone's comments on The Tyee last year:

Where the media has really been sleeping is on CP's allegations that CN already had made an inside deal with the Premier over BC Rail. Now if that comes out in the trial it will make the charges against Basi et al look truly insignificant. The fact is that CN did have the inside track to buy BC rail - oh sorry lease it for 990 years - and both CP and Omnitrax were very upset at being used as pawns to cover an inside deal. CP walked and Omnitrax was seriously considering doing so as well. So the whole keystone cops raid on the legislature served to cover up the biggest scandal of the Campbell administration and that is the deal that Campbell allegedly cooked up with CN to buy BC Rail before the matter ever went to public bid.
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It doesn't get much more significant than that, eh?

Next pre-trial hearing: 27 Feb., Supreme Court, Vancouver.
 
Sorry, sorry! Next pre-trial hearing: 26 February !!
 
BC Mary:

As many in blogosphere know, Pierre Bourque and Warren Kinsella have being battling out of Bourque's "Pay for Headlines" policy. This response seems to be Bourque's response to the mock indignation by the Fed Libs that the Conservatives have paid for headlines: a practice that Elections Canada deemed today as being a violation of election law, should it be practiced following the issuance of the writs.

It would appear that you now have a big ally on the fed news scence.
See:
http://www.warrenkinsella.com/musings.htm
http://www.bourque.org/
http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070211/internet_ads_070211/20070211/

From Bourque Newswatch (Feb 12, 2007 @ 6:00 pm)
Adscam & Basi
Two words that send shivers down the spine of certain high-level federal and Ontario Grits, particularly the pompous and the bombastic. Indeed, with ongoing RCMP investigations and upcoming criminal trials on both fronts, many high-flying Liberals are thinking twice about potential ramifications as takedown artists and gluttons for punishment seek a combo plate of red herrings and fall guys to usurp national media attention from past mis-deeds and forthcoming public indignations. Indeed, a perfect storm of Liberal horrors is on the horizon. As a longtime Liberal, one shudders in disgust.
 
Sheesh ... Anonymous! Wow !!

This is exciting news! Or ... I think it would be, if I actually fully understood what you mean!!!

We all know some pompous and bombastic high-level federal Grits ... some from Ontario ... some from B.C. ... and we sure do know about potential ramifications, fall guys, and red herrings ... I'm with you that far.

Many thanks for your amazing information ... Please explain more ... OK?
 
"The safety audit, ordered in August 2005, was promised to be made public by the Liberals. Completed last year, the safety audit findings have not been released by the Conservative government. Transport Minister Lawrence Cannon says that's because CN doesn't want it made public. "I would want it to be made public but I can't," Cannon tells W-FIVE."

Obviously CN just wants to hide the
"good news" about how safe they are, because it would be boring. People would be too relaxed on the trains and near the tracks as trains passed and thus would miss out on all that excitement that fearing for your life can provide!
 
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