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Kicking Horse: What if it had been Oil?

Kicking Horse: What if it had been Oil?

The horrible CP derailment in the Kicking Horse Pass was an awful situation, mostly for the poor unfortunates aboard. The story emerging is that the train’s brakes were unstable. After pausing at a stop over the Pass on the 2%+ grade above the Spiral Tunnels and above Field, it just let go. And the 3 responsible for it were helplessly swept along as the train sans brakes remorselessly picked up speed. Who knows what they tried to do to rein in the runaway but nothing worked. After exiting out of control from one of the tunnels, it launched off a curve and 2 kms of train were strewn along the right of way and down the mountainside into the River below. The locomotives and slews of car were broken and ruptured – huge quantities of cargo spilled down into the valley.
The cargo was grain. What if it had been oil?
That would have instantly triggered a whole new discussion on the western Canadian pipeline impasse. The specter of crude flooding down form 100+ torn up oil cars down the banks of the Yoho valley into Sherbrook Creek, and the pristine Kicking Horse would have spurred some very different talk: and fast.

The oil’s gonna travel. Because of the intransigence of entitled forces, it now is relegated to rail. Well, we know where the problem is. Money. And entrenched interests. Aboriginals who want a piece. Environmentalists who find their coffers mysteriously graced.
Those who rail about the “dangers” of pipelines seem to be willfully oblivious to the realities of transport.

First, rail right of ways all parallel river courses. Heading west from Alberta, they run at the bottom of mountain valleys. Right beside or near the sensitive waterways that the protesters are so earnestly protecting. For the entire distance.
Not always true going east, but more often near water than away from it.

Second, rail transport is not without risk. I’m a great fan of rail lore. Recently up at Lake Louise, we stopped for a fine post-ski dinner at Laggan station. They have a great rail-centered book and memorabilia nook, and there I found and bought a treasure. An old reprint of train tales and pictures of the challenges of operating on the Big Hill.
The stories were not about smooth. The old rail hands told of snow blockages, runaways, jockeying pushers locomotives, near asphyxiation in the long tunnels, slippery track, trials of braking. The picture painted was of a battle waged daily with great forces cascading down that long steep grade, or grinding up. Making the trip, yes, but not always with wide margins. If you think it’s like the boring reality of airplane pilots, think again. And there are lots of curves, riverside runs and grades from here west. Remember the winter crash at Chase. Just for starters.
I bought and devoured that book days before the accident. So the notion that something could go wrong on the Big Hill – or elsewhere along the valleys west – was not a surprise.

My brother in law has been involved in ecological mitigation of right of ways for highways, transmission lines and pipelines throughout BC. Westland created a legacy of responsible recommendations that resulted in many fine additions to our infrastructure with minimal interference to the natural world.
When first beginning field work for proposed pipelines to transit central BC, they started by dropping in to the local forestry and wildlife office in Terrace.
“We’re here to start assessing potential locations for a pipeline right of way.”
“Put it wherever you want!”
Now why would that be the response?
Simple. The pine beetle had taken care of any possible damage to the forest. There wasn’t any left alive. The area was dead, dead, dead. And not just a bit of it. All of it.
I flew with our TEC group from Calgary, via Prince George to Smithers about the same time as Wayne’s visit. In a Pilates, at 350 knots or so, we overflew red as far as the eye could see – from 25,000 feet – for over an hour. You could do the same trip today but you wouldn’t see red. You’d see dead. Red were the needles. Now you’d see sticks. Dead as a door nail. All the way across the centre of BC.

So if the pipe had gone ahead it would traverse that country pretty much already ruined without impact. It would go the most direct route possible, over the hills underground and, unlike rails, with an occasional river crossing. And a remarkable proven safety record – far superior to the history of rail.

Our Province is totally flummoxed by the intransigence of BC and the complicit, chicken Feds. A vital industry is just dying under us. Last i checked, everyone in BC and elsewhere is still driving cars. For years, flights to and from Comox, our cottage destination, were crammed with Coasters heading to – where else – Fort McMurray. To work. For very generous money. But, I wouldn’t be surprised if, when home, they joined the protests!

Our oil is being marketed – albeit artificially constrained – at discounts from American oil at 25 – 40%. So the Province is stuck. They can’t get even the simplest approval, to twin an already existing line. So, in desperation, they’ve recently signed to build 4400 rail cars to expand rail motive capacity. Those cars, where will they go? They say to reach the gulf coast or – wherever.

So, back to the Kicking Horse derailment.
What if it had been oil?


Doug Bouey
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

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Doug Bouey, President
Catalyst Strategic Consultants Ltd.

Calgary, AB // Phone: 403.777.1144


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