Is $19 million house for sale because of rail disasters?

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Photograph by: screengrab, http://gregfraser.com

A $18.9 million dollar house in White Rock, BC, has recently been listed for sale shortly after multiple rail disasters reported in other cities.

The six-bedroom, eight-bathroom home on Marine Drive is the most expensive in White Rock history and boasts an elevator, an indoor pool, a spa, a theatre and stage, an entertainment area, and a gym. A perfect home for a family.

The house has a stunning, southern view of the ocean, and is located just above the Burlington Northern rail line which runs through White Rock.

On mid-October of this year, 13 cars of a CN train carrying petroleum products from Alberta’s oil sands derailed and exploded about 80 kilometres west of Edmonton, forcing 100 people from the town of Gainford to evacuate their homes.

The Alberta derailment follows the catastrophic explosion that ripped through Lac Mégantic, Que. on July 6, destroying the rural town and killing 47 people, and comes amidst growing debate over the merits of transporting oil by rail to B.C.’s coast.

Very little oil is shipped by rail in BC right now, but that could change if the proposed pipelines through BC are postponed.

White Rock Fire Chief Phil Lemire says that in response to these recent events, his department is reviewing its emergency response plans.

Lemire admits that there is potential in White Rock, a city through which two and a half kilometres of railway runs, for a “high impact incident,” and he’s not sure if his department could manage the fallout.

“Well you plan for what your typical daily events are. We have limited capacity so far as resources,” he told CBC News.

“We do have mutual aid with other departments in the Lower Mainland, and in an event of a large scale, you’d be looking to call on those resources as well.”

Burlington Northern Sante Fe Railway Company, the operator responsible for that stretch of track in White Rock, decides what information about cargo is shared with the fire department.

According to Lemire, BNSF often does not disclose what their trains are carrying or when they will be carrying it, citing national and operational security as the reason for non-disclosure.

Exploding oil tankers isn’t the only worry residents of White Rock have, the Fraser Surrey Docks coal port proposal will, if approved, expand coal train shipments through White Rock.

There are already six coals trains passing through White Rock every day on average, and Surrey Fraser docks wants to increase that to 7.5 trains initially and then increase it again to 9.5 trains per day passing through White Rock. In case you have forgotten how much coal dust that will create: That works out to 400 tons of coal dust deposited in White Rock or the equivalent of 4 coal cars worth of Coal Dust dropped on White Rock beaches, homes, and in residents lungs every year.

And with the George Massey Tunnel replacement, large coal transport ships will be able to travel up the Fraser and pave the way for much more expansion in the years to come.

Thermal coal shipment by rail from the US to BC is planned to increase dramatically.

Burlington Northern reports that each coal car only loses about 500 pounds of coal in the form of coal dust over its 1100 mile journey from Wyoming’s Powder River Basin to the West Coast for shipping. Coal dust contains lead, mercury, cadmium, and uranium, but the Coal Industry and even Transport Canada say that there is nothing to worry about.

US thermal coal is one of the cheapest and dirtiest coals there is.

On average, a coal car loses only about half a pound of coal dust each mile along its trip from Wyoming to the West Coast. Near the end of its journey as the trains pass through White Rock, most of the stabilizer that keeps 85% of the dust down has nearly worn off.

Being conservative, let’s use the average and see how much coal dust lands on White Rock each day. Each coal car loses about half a pound of coal as coal dust per mile.  But with 120 cars per train and 10 trains per day, the trains travelling the 4 miles along White Rock’s Semiahmoo Peninsula spew a total of 2200 pounds of coal dust into the air each and every day. That is just in White Rock and works out to 400 tons of coal dust deposited in White Rock or the equivalent of 4 coal cars worth of Coal Dust dropped on White Rock beaches, homes, and in residents lungs every year.

Coal Dust and the associated Diesel Particulate Matter from the coal trains affects everyone on the Semiahmoo Peninsula. The dust and locomotive exhaust are blown by the wind and travels up to 5kms. It is one km from the Pier to North Bluff at 16th avenue and Surrey.

The $19 million dollar home is just steps above the rail line.

That means that this dust is spread by the wind and covers all of White Rock from the beach to Surrey and beyond. In fact since the tracks run right around the Peninsula and no one is located more than 5kms from the tracks, it does not matter where you are in Semiahmoo, there will be coal dust coming your way from one direction or another.

With coal dust problems and potential disaster from oil tank car derailment, if I owned a $19 million dollar home just above the railroad tracks in White Rock I’d be selling too.

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