Plans for unstaffed Second Narrows rail bridge worries port, district officials

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NORTH VANCOUVER — The District of North Vancouver and Port Metro Vancouver are expressing concern over CN’s plan to cut staff who monitor and operate the Second Narrows rail lift bridge.

CN confirmed Tuesday that it will phase out the system of having observer-operators posted at three movable span bridges in the Lower Mainland including the Second Narrows rail crossing, New Westminster and Lulu Island bridges.

Instead, all three bridges will be monitored by camera, and raised and lowered as needed from a central location.

“The centralized system will streamline our operations while continuing to follow the marine navigation rules and maintain safety,” said Warren Chandler, CN spokesman. “We will still have the ability to place a bridge tender at any of the bridges should we feel it necessary, but the idea is to have the automation up and running by the end of this year.”

Chandler said additional cameras have been installed at all bridges, which will give the centralized bridge operator a full view. The change shouldn’t present any more risk to marine or rail traffic, Chandler added.

“We have done a comprehensive risk assessment to ensure that the centralized system will not have an adverse effect on operations or safety,” he said.

But officials with Port Metro Vancouver said no one has told them about the risk assessment.

“They indicated that they were looking at potentials for doing this and they started a review process, but as far as we are concerned, it has never come full circle. It has never been completed as a full-fledged risk assessment,” said Chris Wellstood, deputy harbour master.

Deepsea traffic traverses the narrows at least daily, and there is likely more traffic on the way if Kinder Morgan gets approval for the twinning of its oil pipeline to the Burnaby terminus, Wellstood said.

The port has also not been informed of whether Transport Canada has signed off on CN’s plan, Wellstood added.

CN’s plan may be perfectly safe, said Wellstood, but he added until industry members and the port have been able to list their concerns and hear what CN’s plan for addressing them are, it’s hard to know how CN reached its conclusion.

While rail safety is under federal jurisdiction, District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton said he too is wary of CN’s claim in the absence of seeing a risk assessment report.

“The first reaction is, if you’re going to monitor something from New Westminster by video and control it, do you have access to all the information that a human set of eyes and brain has when it’s right there in the south tower overlooking the site?” Walton asked. “I just don’t know.”

As Burrard Inlet is crucial to the economies of every municipality that borders it and protecting the environment is a shared responsibility, Walton said CN should make its risk assessment available for public scrutiny.

“I suspect, if CN is working within the acceptable safety standards, then obviously those safety standards need to be publicly disclosed,” he said. “I think most of us mayors in the inner harbour would like a little more comfort than CN just saying the job can be done from a remote location in New Westminster.”

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