We’ve all been watching the situation in British Columbia unravel, as this significant weather event continues to transpire and wreak havoc.
Amongst the challenges people are facing in all the areas impacted, are challenges to our transportation system, along the highways and railways.
David Przednowek, assistant vice president for grain with CN Rail, joined RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney to shed some light on what the railways are dealing with on the ground.
“I think you have to start by looking at this as an unprecedented and exceptionally challenging event,” explains Przednowek. “We’ve seen a months’ worth of rainfall in that November 13 and 15 window, and we’ve subsequently seen a second atmospheric river go through. And there’s a third atmospheric river on the way.”
As Przednowek notes, this is a situation that no one on the ground can remember ever dealing with before. It’s unique in the perspective that since 2000, both CN and Canadian Pacific (CP) have both operated through the Fraser Canyon.
“It’s basically between Kamloops and Vancouver, so on the north end, the directional running zone starts at Coho and Nepa, and in the south ends at Mission and Page. Within that zone, CN and CP both have a line,” he explains. “CN and CP run eastbound up out of Vancouver on the CP line, and running down bound it’s on the CN mainline. It’s a way to add efficiency.”
This method has added efficiency — until as of late. Both the CN and CP lines in that stretch have been washed out, leaving zero rail transport options available. Dozens of areas were impacted, and as Przednowek explains, there were different levels of severity of impact. Some areas will be easier to fix than others, but for the heavily damaged sections, it’s not a quick job.
“Think of the mountainous terrain out there, and the type of force that that water can have say coming down off a mountain side,” he says. “That type of water with that type of force can create some pretty big disruptions, like massive washouts. We’re not talking a small hole either.”
For those large washouts, Przednowek says that filling with soil won’t do the job. You need to use rip rap — which is essentially boulders and rock, that are used to stabilize and protect against water erosion and scouring. The engineering hoops and dynamics aren’t easy to jump through, especially as the rain and water continues to flow.
Over the November 27th weekend, CN was able to resume traffic on the mainline between Kamloops and Vancouver, with about seven trains that moved. Prior to that, CP had their Cascades line up and running as well.
“We have been working together on a daily operating plan with CP to fleet that traffic back and forth,” Przednowek explains.
As of November 30, the CN mainline is back is out of service, says Przednowek, without an ETA on when it will resume. With the looming third atmospheric river on its way, there is plenty of uncertainty on what could happen. For now, CN says they will continue working with CP to use their mainline, to keep cars moving.
“This is a day-to-day, very dynamic and very rapidly changing situation that we continue to monitor here.”
Check out the entire conversation between David Przednowek and RealAg Radio host Shaun Haney, below: