Several of the cars that derailed 7 kms south of Ashcroft on January 12. None of the cars entered the river

CP derailment sends coal into Thompson River

Interior Health is advising residents in a 50 km stretch south of the derailment not to drink water from the river until tests are done

A CP train carrying loads of metallurgic coal derailed 7 kms west of Ashcroft at 3:45 p.m. on Thursday, January 12, sending 29 cars off the rails. While none of the rail cars entered the river, it is estimated that between 120 and 160 tonnes of coal were spilled down the bank and into the Thompson River.

There were no injuries to crew members, and no dangerous goods were involved.

The location of the derailment (see marker). Photo courtesy Google Maps.

CP immediately enacted its emergency response processes, rushing dozens of vehicles and crew members to Ashcroft by the morning of January 13. The assessment, repair, and clean-up process was hampered by the derailment site’s remote location and lack of road access, but the main line was reopened to traffic on the evening of January 13.

Aerial view of the derailment site. Photo courtesy CTV Vancouver.

Transportation Safety Board and Environmental Emergency Response teams were on site on the 13th. A turbidity curtain and shore boom were deployed to keep additional coal out of the river, and CP expects that remediation of the site will take up to two weeks. CP has stated that they will return the site to pre-derailment conditions.

Transport Canada (TC) Rail Safety deployed a team of inspectors to the incident, and a CP environmental officer was on site. The Ashcroft Indian Band had been contacted by TC, as the incident occurred in the band’s territory, and the First Nations Health Authority advised all First Nations downstream of the incident.

Ashcroft mayor Jack Jeyes says he is very pleased with CP’s response to the incident. “They took it very seriously. It was a big deal to them, and the size of the response indicates that.

“The amount of resources [at the site] indicates how seriously they took the situation, and showed that one would expect that if it was something more toxic it would get treated exactly the same way.”

Some of the more than four dozen response vehicles at a staging area in Ashcroft. Photo by Barbara Roden.

A view of the derailment site from the opposite side of the river (CN track in foreground). Photo courtesy CTV Vancouver.

On the afternoon of January 13, Interior Health (IH) issued a “Do Not Consume” notice and informed local communities. It advises the public not to consume water from the Thompson River for a distance of 50 km downstream from the spill site, even after boiling the water. This is a precaution until further information is available on potential health risks.

IH has set up water sampling stations at the spill site, as well as upstream and downstream. Testing will be done on January 14, and results are expected in 48 to 96 hours. The water testing results will be used to update the public about the need for continuation, or termination, of the Do Not Consume notice.

Anyone who drank water from the Thompson since the derailment and who feels unwell is advised to see a doctor. The most likely effect from ingesting coal would be an upset stomach.

Metallurgic coal is a fine-grain product used in steel production. Coal is a non-regulated material, and relatively non-toxic. However, an IH medical officer says that health concerns are not so much to do with the coal as with what chemicals might have been used to treat it.

A CP spokesperson says that clean-up and remediation at the site is continuing, and that an investigation into the derailment is ongoing. While no cause has yet been determined, the derailment occurred along a 10 km stretch of the Thompson which is an area of prehistoric, historic, and active landslides and slope movement (most notably the Great Slide south of Black Canyon in 1880; see “Golden Country: Past, Present, and Beyond: The Great Slide”, The Journal, November 17, 2016).

A 2012 draft paper entitled “Ashcroft Thompson River Landslides: Spatial and Temporal Scale of Controls” (I. Hall, M. Porter, P. Quinn, K.W. Savigny; BGC Engineering Inc.) notes that “In several places the rail lines rest directly on active landslides where gradual, continuous slope movements (and occasional rapid failures) affect their safe and reliable operation. This has resulted in significant recurring disruptions in rail service and the need for periodic track re-alignment.”

Graphic showing the location of landslides along the Thompson River south of Ashcroft (marked in red) The January 12 derailment occurred near the “v” in River. Graphic courtesy BGC Engineering.

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