By publishing a list of all the rail incidents in northern B.C. in the past decade, Northern Health is hoping to spur a discussion about transportation safety in the region.
The health authority listed 452 accidents and 140 incidents between 2003 and 2012 around the north, ranging from derailments to crashes with motor vehicles to fires. In Prince George alone, the report cited 188 accidents or incidents during that time period.
"It's really to open up the issue for discussion for people," Northern Health chief medical health officer Dr. David Bowering said. "Whether they think we need to worry or whether we're worrying enough - I suspect lots of people will have different takes."
Any collisions, derailments or events that lead to human injury or death are classified as accidents. Incidents include events like a leaky rail car, a runway rail car or when the movement of rail cars exceeds its authority.
Non-main track derailments accounted for half of all the accidents during the time period studied with 226 occurrences. There were also 83 main track derailments and 38 crossing accidents.
Prince George had far more accidents and incidents than any other community - not a surprise given the city's size and the amount of rail activity. Terrace had the second most with 38 and Chetwynd was third with 35.
The project began when a Northern Health staff member had an interest in rail safety and began collecting the data from media reports out of personal interest. Bowering was shown the preliminary work and was surprised by the number of incidents listed. He then asked for the report to be expanded.
Northern Health worked with the Transportation Safety Board to confirm each of accidents or incidents and published the list on its community health information portal.
By listing each occurrence, Bowering said the health authority isn't trying to single the rail industry or criticize its operations, nor is it making any comment on how incidents in northern B.C. stack up against other jurisdictions.
"Clearly we're not in the railway business, nor do we have any expertise in that area," Bowering said. "But we are interested in human, health and safety and emergency preparedness and it's really come to the forefront with all of these resource extraction proposals - pipeline, [liquefied natural gas] and northeast oil and gas - and all the potential for more transporting or potentially hazardous goods both on the roads and on the the rails."
Bowering has been involved in Northern Health's road safety projects in the past and sees this railway study as an extension of that. By having a better understanding of how many incidents occur in the north, their severity and where they happen in the region can help the health authority and other agencies better prepare in the event of a catastrophic disaster.
He also hopes it will lead to a more informed discussion around transportation in the region.
"It does worry me, especially as we're adding more and more - both in quantity and quality - dangerous kinds of products to what we transport by rail," he said.