There are more trains on the rails than ever before and they are getting longer. That, combined with high profile tragedies such as Lac Megantic and seemingly endless reports of derailments (there have been three in the past six weeks in southern Saskatchewan alone), is raising flags with private citizens, business owners, public officials and first responders.
“It is a concern, especially when it comes to emergency services,” said Bob Maloney, Yorkton mayor.
Maloney said it is a subject that comes up regularly at the Saskatchewan City Mayors Caucus meetings, but amounts to mostly fruitless discussion.
“[The railroads] have federal right of way,” he said. “There isn’t a whole lot we can do.”
The consequences for emergency services of trains blocking traffic also came up at a recent meeting of the Yorkton Chamber of Commerce Business Development Committee. The committee consulted fire chief Trevor Morrisey.
“This particular subject has always been one that we struggle with,” the chief told the committee. “When there is a train blocking traffic and we need to pass, we radio back to our dispatch centre with our location. They, in turn, contact the rail company who can stop and separate the train at our intersection or continue until the intersection is clear; both of these scenarios take a bit of time.”
There is also the case, however, when a train is not just passing through, but is stopped, effectively separating the city into two solitudes. Maloney related an anecdote from a constituent, who said she had been forced to wait 45 minutes for a stopped train in the northern industrial part of åthe city.
Morrisey explained the common assumption that the railroads are only allowed to stop a train for a maximum of 10 minutes is only true to a certain extent.
“The problem encountered is that the train only has to move,” he said. “This includes rolling either direction two feet and the 10 minutes starts over.”
In the case of an extended stop, Morrisey told the committee the fire department contacts the rail company and gets them to split the train so fire, EMS and police units can be staged on the other side in case of an emergency.
“The problem in this instance is not only the train, but the congestion of traffic that impedes our ability to respond,” Morrisey said.
The Chamber reported the chief’s comments to its membership through its monthly newsletter.
“The Business Development Committee thought it important for the business community to know how Yorkton’s emergency services strive to provide service when a train is stopped blocking traffic,” the article stated.
The Chamber is now seeking public input on two questions. The first is whether Yorkton needs more drop down arms at rail crossings in the city. The second is at which two intersections the drop down arms most needed.
Responses may be sent to i...@yorktonchamber.com.