KAMLOOPS HAS JUST BECOME the pinch point for moving coal from the coal mines of the Elk Valley in southern B.C., to the coal port at Roberts Bank in Delta.
Previously the coal went all the way to Vancouver with CP locomotives.
Now, the coal cars have to switch over from the CP rail lines to the CN tracks in Kamloops.
Moving coal is huge. Currently 10 per cent of all freight CP hauls in western Canada is coal. The busiest rail lines in Western Canada is between Calgary and Kamloops, in no small part because of coal.
Suddenly, a massive number of trains will be running on the track from the CP yard in South Kamloops, across Lorne Street, then across 7th Avenue at Pioneer Park. Then the trains will head over the train bridge onto Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc where they will cross over Chilcoton Road, George Campbell Way, and a number of private crossings.
One in 10 trains that were previously going straight through Kamloops on CP tracks could potentially be taking this route every day.
This sleepy little rail line, known more as the track of the 2141 locomotive, is suddenly the pinch point for coal trains in Western Canada.
But the corridor does not have sufficient safety at crossings for this volume of rail freight.
The current crossing on Lorne Street has lights but no crossing gates. There are no signals at all on the 7th Avenue crossing. At that crossing, there is only a stop sign and a rail crossing sign. Even with the current low volume of trains using this track now, it is considered a big enough hazard that railway workers often man the crossings as the trains cross.
Imagine how much bigger a hazard it will be when coal trains, 2.4 kilometers long on average, start rumbling through.
Over on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc, Chilcoton Road has just a stop sign and a rail sign. George Campbell Way has signals, but no crossing gates. The private crossings have at most stop signs and rail signs.
One solution is to increase the signals at the crossings. Crossing gates could be installed on Lorne Street, and signals and crossing gates on 7th Avenue. Upgrades could be made to the crossings on Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc.
Easy enough. But who will pay for them? Transport Canada states that upgrades to rail crossings are a joint responsibility of the railway and road authority.
Railway crossing signals cost between $200,000 to $1 million to install. A recent upgrade of a Spallumcheen railway crossing near Armstrong cost $325,000 for an active signalized warning system. The district of Spallumcheen paid 12.5 per cent, or $47,000 of the cost, with the railway covering the rest.
It is one thing to have a few boxcars a day, and one or two tourist trains a day, rolling down that track. It’s another thing entirely to have all the coal of the Elk Valley, in 2.4 km long trains, running through town, train after train.
The crossings should be upgraded, and the City of Kamloops and Tk’emlúps te Secwépemc need to bargain hard to ensure that CN Rail pays their fair share.
Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.