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BEPPLE – CN’s new coal contract presents challenges for Kamloops

(Image: Nancy Bepple)

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.

Last week, CN announced that it had won the contract to ship coal from Kamloops to the port.  But the coal still goes by rail on CP track from Elkford and Sparwood, through Golden to Kamloops.

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.

About Mel Rothenburger (7202 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

6 Comments on BEPPLE – CN’s new coal contract presents challenges for Kamloops

  1. I read somewhere else that the coal via CN will be transported to a terminal in North Vancouver, in part owned by Teck. Nothing was reported if ALL Teck coal will be shipped from Kamloops via CN to this terminal; or if the shipments will be split between the North Vanc depot (via CN) & to Roberts Bank (via CP.)…so until this is clarified; maybe not all coal trains will be moving on the new CN route.

  2. There are so many things wrong with this I don’t know where to start. So ! here goes
    No. 1 Slow order on that track 10 to 15 KM/ H (or less )
    No.2 Up st 20 minutes to clear a train.(So forget emergency services)
    No.3 No crossing gates
    No 4 Excess noise for the entire area from running gear
    No. 5 excess noise from whistle blowing
    No 6 The rail bridge may not handle that kind of tonnage and could be damaged leading to derailment.
    No 7 Three to six units per train with huge diesel exhaust emissions
    No 8 Cutting access to private driveways on reserve stopping emergency services and home access plus any delivery services.
    No 8 Lengthy interuption to buisness deliveries on Lorne .st.
    No 9 limiting access to Pioneer park and boat launch.
    No 10 Trains may not get access to CN rail yards and be delayed an unknown amount of time.

    Pls voice your concerns to your MLA and MP’s and city council. This must be stopped. There is a crossover CP to CN near Ashcroft.

    Other issues will become evident

  3. One thing that wasn’t mentioned is that these trains are travelling at 10 mph, so the busy Lorne street crossing (as well as each crossing across the river) is blocked for a considerable length of time while these mile and a half long trains head across the river. It’s too bad that the switch from CP to CN can’t take place at Ashcroft, like all the other westbound trains.

  4. Ian M MacKenzie // December 11, 2019 at 9:09 AM // Reply

    Good on you, Nancy for doing all that homework! But the only solution is to shut down the coal industry completely, which is what should have happened a long time ago. Yup, it’ll cost coal extraction jobs which should hasten the transition to fewer fossil fuel jobs, which will require our governments to start dealing seriously with retraining programs, so we can leave a cleaner world for those following us on this pale blue dot.

  5. Many coal trains switching over from CP to CN at Kamloops does indeed sound like a huge inconvenience and a safety concern. Did CN bid knowing full well but chose not to care?

  6. Has the impact of the coal dust/diesel on air quality in the city center been assessed? That volume of diesel and coal could be a problem for local air quality, too, and should not be discounted. I don’t think that industry should automatically get a free pass when a city has grown up around them. Times change and those tracks through downtown should probably have been moved years ago.

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