Former Mayor Pat Estabrooks was heading to a 10 a.m. out-of-town meeting on December 12th when she found herself trapped in the Sackville industrial park.
“You know where we live on Beal Heights?” Estabrooks asked during a telephone interview. “Well a CN freight train was totally blocking all three exits.”
Estabrooks says the train was stalled on the tracks preventing anyone who lives or works in the area from getting in or out via the two Crescent Street exits or the one at the tracks on Charles Street.
The train was also blocking the rail crossing about three kilometres away at Rte. 935 preventing people who live in Wood Point, British Settlement and Westcock from reaching highway 106 leading into Sackville.
Estabrooks drove to all three rail crossings in the industrial park and waited about 10 minutes at one of them before heading to the public works building on Crescent Street where she asked the receptionist to alert town officials.
She says she was concerned that residents who live on Charles Street, Beal Heights and Crescent Street weren’t being told anything about what was happening.
“If you’ve got a train that’s stopped on the track for 45 minutes and you have residents, your ambulance, your public works department on the other side of it, shouldn’t they be calling somebody and saying, ‘Look this is what the problem is and don’t get concerned and if there’s an emergency, call us?’, she asked, adding, “although I don’t know what would happen if there was an emergency.”
Estabrooks says she took the matter up two days later with Mayor Higham and although he seemed receptive to her pleas for better communication, she hasn’t heard yet what the town plans to do if a train blocks the exits again.
Mesheau raises issue
Newly elected town councillor Shawn Mesheau asked about the train blockage after being officially sworn in at Monday’s council meeting. He said he first learned about it when a co-worker who lives in British Settlement showed up late because she couldn’t get across the tracks in West Sackville.
Mesheau added he had also talked with Pat Estabrooks after her meeting with the mayor who could not preside over Monday’s meeting because of urgent family business in Vancouver.
“I’m just wondering what has transpired since then, if there’s any work being conducted to address this?” Mesheau asked.
Sackville fire chief Craig Bowser replied that his department only learned of the blockage after it was well underway. He estimated it lasted from 20 to 30 minutes, but acknowledged he couldn’t be sure exactly how long it was.
He said that by the time he arrived, first at the Rte. 935 crossing and then at the ones in the industrial park, the train had moved away.
Bowser indicated that the train’s braking system had lost air pressure and that it had taken time to build the pressure up again.
He said town officials were talking to CN about procedures to notify the town when such incidents occur.
“So, there are steps being taken at this time to assure that if it does happen again, there’s a quicker response from CN letting the municipality of Sackville as well as emergency services know,” Bowser said.
For her part, Pat Estrabrooks recalls that blocking the exits was a concern when she served on town council.
“We discussed with CN, and that was before the trains were four miles long, we discussed what would happen in the event a train stopped on the track for a length of time,” she says.
“We were told that they would break the train immediately, especially if they thought there was going to be a lengthy delay.”
Estabrooks adds that by breaking the train, she understood that CN would take steps to remove cars blocking at least one of the exits so residents and emergency vehicles could cross the tracks.
“So, my concern was why did they not break the train [on December 12th]?” she asks.
“The freight trains are too long and if they indeed close off three exits, then we’re in trouble.”
UPDATE: CN issued the following statement from its Montreal H.Q. on January 16, 2019:
For this incident that occurred on December 12th our procedures were followed accordingly which was to call the local RCMP centre and advise. CN Police spoke with RCMP in relation to the blocked crossing; they also called to advise when the crossing was clear.
The crossing was blocked for approximately 20 minutes due to a mechanical issue.
UPDATE: On January 21, 2019, Sgt.Paul Gagné of the RCMP detachment in Sackville said the Mounties did not notify the town’s fire department that the train was blocking the crossings because there was no need to. “It’s not an emergency when a train blocks the road for about a half hour,” Gagné said in an interview with Warktimes. He added that he thought the town would hear from residents in any case. “I have trouble getting my head around why this is an issue,” he added.