CN Rail has increased the frequency of inspections on a section of track where a CN locomotive spilled some 5,000 litres of diesel fuel into the Squamish Estuary last November.
After the Nov. 8, 2012, incident, the company determined that the mishap occurred as a result of a flawed track segment that broke off and punctured the locomotive's fuel tank, CN spokesperson Emily Hamer told The Chief on Friday (Feb. 15). As a result, the company has increased the frequency of its inspections of track just north of Squamish Terminals, Hamer said.
Hamer, however, couldn't say when the flawed segment of track was laid or whether it was flawed from the time it was put in place.
“I don't have that information,” she said.
The federal Transportation Safety Board (TSB) did look into the cause of the spill but did not conduct a full investigation, TSB spokesman Chris Krepski told The Chief on Thursday (Feb. 14). The mishap was at least partly the result of a switching assignment decision at the Squamish rail yard, he said. He declined to elaborate.
Squamish-based conservationist John Buchanan, who has followed the incident from the outset, suggested that the track isn't the only thing in this scenario that's flawed. He said the TSB is among the agencies that has had its budget cut in recent years, and he speculated that the agency doesn't have the resources to fully investigate some mishaps that merit attention.
“The [TSB] 'investigation' is just laughable,” Buchanan said on Friday. “The things that happened down there, they're either not aware of them or just not able to respond.
“It was too small for them. They made a phone call to CN and didn't send anyone out into the field to investigate.”
Asked what criteria are used to determine whether a full investigation is warranted, Krepski said, “Each case is different. It depends on the extent of injuries and on the amount spilled and whether they were quickly contained or not. It seems in this case it was contained pretty quickly and that it was a piece of broken rail that punctured the tank.”
After the incident, Buchanan said it's his understanding that the company has been using six-axle locomotives on a section of track designed for smaller, four-axle ones. He suggested that may have had contributed to the deterioration of that section of track.
Neither Hamer nor Krepski could shed any light on that issue.
“I'm not sure why the rail was broken,” Krepski said.
“This type of incident is rare due to CN's leading-edge track technologies and safety processes to detect internal flaws, but we have increased the frequency of inspections on this section of track” in an effort to avoid a similar mishap in the future, Hamer said
Despite Buchanan's contention that the spill “was never fully contained” and that the damaged locomotive was leaking fuel all the way back to the Squamish yard, a B.C. Ministry of Environment official said the ministry was generally pleased with the spill response.
“CN has contained, recovered and disposed of spilled diesel and contaminated soil in accordance with the Environmental Management Act and Hazardous Waste Regulation,” a ministry spokesman wrote in an email to The Chief.
“CN retained a qualified environmental consultant to assess the impact to habitat that was disturbed during the clean-up,” the statement added.
“CN has provided a plan for restoration of the impacted area that will include restoration of lost soil and native vegetation, with planting scheduled to begin this spring,” it said, adding that the ministry made no recommendations to the TSB or other agencies in the spill's aftermath.