POLITICS

Saskatoon fire chief says better strategies at railway crossings are needed

11/19/2014 10:02 EST | Updated 01/19/2015 05:59 EST
SASKATOON - Saskatoon's fire department is once again calling for better strategies after one of its trucks racing to put out a house fire had to sit and wait at a railway crossing while a freight train rolled by.

The crew quickly contacted a second fire hall, which got to the scene about seven minutes after the initial alarm sounded.

The house was vacant and no one was hurt, and firefighters managed to keep the flames from spreading to other homes.

Given that the standard time to get to a fire call is six minutes, assistant chief Morgan Hackl says the delay worked about to be about a minute longer than fire crews would like.

But Chief Dan Paulsen says it's a reminder that more work needs to be done to mitigate the impact of trains at level crossings within city limits right across Canada.

He says Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railways are working on technology that would alert dispatchers to the location of trains in real time, so they know which crossings are blocked and can send crews from locations that aren't affected.

Paulsen also says it's key to keep working with a national train safety working group put together by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

"This needs to go through to the national level, dealing with Transport Canada ... and it's that level that we're looking at on the long-term solution of 'how do we separate rail and road?'" he said.

He suggested that the solution could be to identify key intersections and then work with Ottawa and the railways to get bypasses built either over or under them, rather than pushing to have tracks removed outright.

He stressed that the issue is a problem for every municipality in the country.

"There's 20,000 level crossings throughout Canada and of course you can't separate all of them. So we have to identify 'what (are) the major chokepoints, how do we move around that and look to the future?'"

Paulsen added that the clock is ticking as pressure from growing communities meets the prospect of longer trains.

"When you consider train lengths right now at six-and-a-half to seven thousand feet, and potentially moving towards 14,000, there's going to be long blockages and we're trying to be as proactive as possible," he said.

(CKOM)