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No CN track grinding during fire season

For the first time, the company will halt all track grinding in B.C. during the peak fire season in July and August.
A scorched orchard in Lytton after the South Spencer Road fire in Setpember 2016. The fire might have been started by track grinding in the area.

A delegation from CN Railway appeared before the directors of the Thompson-Nicola Regional District (TNRD) at their board meeting on March 22; and for one director especially, what he heard was very welcome news.

In an interview with The Journal in January 2017 (“Water systems, Spences Bridge park among challenges for TNRD director”, January 5) Steve Rice, TNRD director for Area “I”, said that he had brought a resolution to the TNRD board that addressed the issue of railways doing track-grinding during fire season in high-risk areas.

“I want them to do it out of the fire season,” Rice said at the time. “The data is all there, and we know which areas are high risk.” He said he wanted to see a system where tracks are not ground between Boston Bar and Ashcroft in August.

“The railways said it’s too difficult, but there were four wildfires in Boston Bar and TNRD Area ‘I’ in the last couple of years, three of which were possibly caused by track grinding. I want to raise the issue, as it is getting quite scary.” He hoped to ultimately see the resolution be presented at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference later this year.

At the meeting last week Oscar Mukanjiri, a senior supervisor from CN, presented a 34-page report about rail grinding and took questions from the board. Rice says he was looking through the report and came across CN’s rail grinding schedule for the province for 2017.

“There were five to six weeks carved out of the schedule in the middle of summer,” he says. “I was able to ask the first question, and said ‘I see you have half of July and most of August blocked out [with no track grinding]. Have you done this before?’”

Mukanjiri replied that this is the first time CN has decided on no track grinding anywhere in the province during that period.

Track grinding is done by a vehicle or train to restore the profile of, and remove irregularities from, worn rail track to extend its life and to improve the ride of trains using the track. The equipment can be mounted on a single self-propelled vehicle or on a dedicated rail grinding train which, when used on an extensive network, may include crew quarters. The grinding wheels, of which there may be more than 100, are set at controlled angles to restore the track to its correct profile.

Mukanjiri explained to the TNRD directors that CN will still conduct track grinding four times a year. “If the tracks are not cleaned and ground four times a year, it makes it harder to detect weaknesses and faults in the track,” explains Rice, adding as an aside that Mukanjiri said the Ashcroft section of the CN main line carries more tonnage than anywhere else in the system.

Rice first brought up the matter of no track grinding during the peak of summer at a seminar about wildfires at the Union of B.C. Municipalities AGM and conference in September 2016. “I brought up that the province might lobby the rail companies to have track grinding restricted during high-risk fire times.

“And I wanted CN to appear before the TNRD board so I could lobby for a pilot project [along these lines] in our area. But I was told ‘They’ll never change the schedule.’”

Rice says that no delegation from CP Rail has yet been scheduled to appear before the TNRD board. He says he will be pursuing the matter to see if CP does its own grinding or whether CN—which runs trains on both lines—does it all.

“I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the grinding schedule,” he continues. “This is really, really cool, and I’m very excited. It’s a small step, but it could eliminate a couple of wildfires. Thank you to the staff and board of the TNRD; it takes everyone to get this done. And thank you to CN for making this happen.”