What does the suspension of an historic railway route, the spilling of fuel into precious salmon habitat, and a couple of elections have to do with one another? For one woman, they all add up to a call for action.
On July 20, 1871 the Province of British Columbia joined confederation and became part of Canada after a railway was promised linking the east with the west. On March 19, 2011, the day my foamer son turned five— and after running for 125 years — it was announced that the Dayliner rail service between the towns of Victoria and Courtenay would be suspended indefinitely due to the need to upgrade and replace track. What was once promised to the Province of British Columbia as a means of connecting the country is now deemed redundant.
Yes, I will miss the leisurely train ride to Duncan to see Granny and Grandpa. Not having to drive the Malahat highway is always a relief. Watching my kids look out the train window is fodder for the kind of memory that can be tucked away and brought out later to warm the cockles of one’s heart.
Just over a month ago, I saw the cancellation of this train service — which allowed people to avoid the drive over the Malahat — as extremely unfortunate. On Saturday April 16, my anger was fueled — pun intended — when an estimated 42,000 litres of gasoline and more than 3,100 litres of diesel fuel spilled into Goldstream River after a Columbia Fuels tanker-truck and trailer overturned and drove into a rock wall. Oh, did I mention that the fuel leaked into a salmon habitat and that this is the time of year the salmon are all merrily – or not so merrily anymore – swimming back downstream to the Pacific? It is estimated that thousands of salmon have been killed. Despite clean-up efforts, it is likely that eagles and other predators of salmon have consumed some of the poisoned fish.
“How many fish are going to die?” Corbin (the foamer) asked me the day after he and his Dad almost got caught in the traffic lined up to get over the Malahat. “I don’t know,” I told him. “But it has the potential to affect the entire ecosystem and it’s a disaster for the life cycle of the salmon.” My five year old looked very pensive.
The driver of the truck was arrested. He assaulted a police officer and is being investigated for impaired driving. The amount of fuel coupled with the time of year it spilled is an environmental disaster. That no human was hurt is a miracle. Corbin has told me that he doesn’t want to drive on the Malahat anymore if there are gas trucks (and I never even painted a picture for him of potential collisions, explosions and deaths. I did give him a lecture on drinking and driving, though).
It is the dawn of a new provincial government in British Columbia and the eve of a new federal government in Canada. Is this not an issue that should be brought to the forefront? Perhaps the new government(s) should work with companies like Columbia Fuels to finance the upgrade and bring the rail bed up to freight traffic standards so that gravel, lumber, oil, gas and other heavy and dangerous goods can be transported in a more efficient, environmentally friendly and less hazardous manner — by train not by truck over the Malahat.
According to the Island Corridor Foundation, an estimated $15 million is needed to upgrade our rails. This funding will also give us enhanced commuter services that reduce both traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions and the potential to attract freight customers. Can we afford this price tag? I say we can’t afford not to. After all, I’d be very interested to know what the cost of cleaning up Goldstream River will be.
“Via Rail’s Dayliner service on Vancouver Island” courtesy of Via Rail
Fuel truck spill into Goldstream River courtesy of Sooke Fire Rescue Service
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