Feds halt CN, CP trains through B.C. wildfire area for two days

'Extended recovery' expected for westbound grain traffic

A sign for Lytton, B.C. on July 1, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Jennifer Gauthier)

Updated — A federal ministerial order has been issued halting Canadian National and Canadian Pacific rail movement through the Kamloops area of British Columbia for 48 hours from midnight Friday.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra announced the order late Thursday, ahead of an authorized tour Friday by evacuated residents to the largely-destroyed village of Lytton, about 160 km southwest of Kamloops.

The order, he said, “is being put in place in the interest of safe railway operations and to protect residents who are temporarily returning to inspect their homes as safely as possible.”

The order requires CN and CP to “cease movement of trains except for emergency fire response, and maintenance and repair work” on their Ashcroft and Thompson subdivisions respectively, both of which run between Kamloops and Boston Bar, about 45 km south of Lytton.

Trains already in those subdivisions when the order comes into force “are permitted to navigate the subdivisions for the purposes of exiting.”

Asked Thursday — before Alghabra’s order was announced — about rail service through the affected region in the wake of fires, a CP representative said its mainline railway operations had “safely resumed” Monday afternoon. Response hadn’t yet been received from CN as of Friday morning.

“The safety of the public and our employees is our priority and we are implementing appropriate measures, such as increased inspections of our tracks and equipment, during this period of extreme weather,” CP said via email, noting its crews had completed safety inspections of tracks and infrastructure before rail operations restarted.

CP also said its crews “closely monitor conditions and continually watch for signs of wildfires. If spotted, any indication of a wildfire is immediately relayed to authorities.”

The decision comes amid media reports in which community leaders around Lytton cite unconfirmed reports that local train traffic sparked the fires.

The federal Transportation Safety Board later Friday said it deployed teams of investigators to Lytton and to the southeastern B.C. community of Sparwood, about 30 km northeast of Fernie. In its statements, the TSB said it was investigating a fire at Sparwood involving a freight train, while the Lytton fire was “potentially involving a freight train.”

The Ag Transport Coalition, which monitors Prairie grain movement by rail on behalf of member grain organizations and industry players, on Wednesday reported a “slowdown in operations as a result of the wildfires in the vicinity of Lytton.”

The coalition had reported “the closure of main lines for both CN and CP south of Kamloops effectively cutting off all access to and from the Port of Vancouver.”

“We continue to expect an extended recovery time given the magnitude of the outage and the recognition that this disruption has impacted all commodity traffic, not just grain,” the coalition said, noting over 2,600 cars, or about 80 per cent of all idle cars, were in the Vancouver rail corridor. — Glacier FarmMedia Network

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