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Burnaby derailment pinned to beaver dam washout

Inspectors look over 3 CP train cars that flipped after derailing in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby, B.C. on Jan. 11, 2014.

Ben Nelms/The Globe and Mail

The derailment of a Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. train in Burnaby this weekend is being blamed on the washout of a beaver dam due to heavy rain.

Emily Hamer, a spokeswoman for Canadian National Railway Co., whose crew was operating the trail, confirmed the cause Sunday – a day after seven cars went off the tracks and spilled coal into a creek that feeds a lake.

"The heavy rainfall led to erosion that led to the washout of a beaver dam that was in the area surrounding our track," Ms. Hamer said in an interview.

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"It altered the integrity of the tracks and there was the derailment."

Ms. Hamer said she could not say whether such a chain of events has been a problem elsewhere along the rail system, but noted that track inspection is an ongoing priority.

She said the track was to be reopened later Sunday and that the derailed cars had been cleared from the area. There were a total 152 cars on the train.

After the derailment, three cars were lying on their sides and four were upright.

The CN spokeswoman has said it's unclear how much coal went into the Silver Creek near Burnaby Lake. She referred questions about the handling of the spilled coal to the B.C. Environment Ministry.

CP has said CN, as the owner of the track, is responsible for the investigation and cleanup.

In a statement, the B.C. Environment Ministry said much of the coal had been removed from Silver Creek. The coal is being sifted from debris removed from the water. The ministry will work with CN on a longer-term plan to deal with any environmental harm to the water. CN is also expected to continue working with the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans and the City of Burnaby.

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CP spokesman Ed Greenberg said earlier this weekend that the metallurgical coal, used in steel making, was destined for Neptune Bulk Terminals in North Vancouver and was from mines in B.C.'s Kootenay region.

There were no injuries in the derailment.

Kevin Washbrook, spokesman for a group called Voters Taking Action on Climate Change, said he saw powdered coal leaching into the creek from two overturned cars.

The creek had turned black and nearby signage indicated it's a sensitive fish habitat, he said.

The derailment is a wake-up call to hold back on proposed plans to increase coal-export capacity at Neptune Terminals, Mr. Washbrook said.

He said that if the Vancouver Fraser Port Authority's plan is approved, coal exports would triple at Neptune in North Vancouver, where city council has called on the authority to conduct a comprehensive health assessment before the expansion.

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"The port authority has complete decision-making power over port lands but those decisions have potential impacts for surrounding communities," Mr. Washbrook said.

"We've spent a year and a half now on this issue, encouraging the federal government to step in and their response has always been, 'Talk to the port authority.' When we raise issues with the port authority about this they say, 'It's up to the railways to control the movement of trains.' "

Last week, a CN freight train jumped the tracks and caught fire near the village of Plaster Rock, N.B., where 150 people were forced to leave their homes.

The company has said 17 of the train's 122 cars derailed, and some of them were carrying crude oil and propane.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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About the Author
B.C. reporter

Ian Bailey is a Vancouver-based reporter for The Globe and Mail.  He covers politics and general news. Prior to arriving at The Globe and Mail, he reported from Toronto and St. John’s for The Canadian Press.  He has also covered British Columbia for CP, The National Post and The Province. More

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