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Member Profile | Southern Railway of British Columbia, Limited

Keith Nordin remembers when the air raid sirens started sounding from the American side of the Canada-U.S. border. Customs officers yelled to him, asking if he could see a crest of water from his vantage point.

He couldn’t. And, rather than crest, the water crept up slowly.

“A lot of the damage to flood protection barriers had already been done, so water had more places to go,” the rail operations veteran reasoned.

(And, sadly in this case, he was right.)

Keith is Director of Operations for Southern Railway of British Columbia, Limited. SRY is a shortline railway known locally for its ‘little blue engines.

That air raid incident was several days – and three major storms – into the biggest crisis of his 27-year career.

A series of punishing weather events in mid-November caused devastating floods, mudslides, and washouts which paralyzed rail operations across British Columbia’s southern interior. Class1 rail lines were down and supply chains already under strain from the pandemic were further compromised.

For SRY, 32 sections of 62 miles of track in and around Abbotsford and the Fraser Valley were impassable. One stretch of SRY track became a makeshift dike where the Canadian Army constructed a sandbag wall in a (successful) bid to save Sumas village from flood waters.

“We, of course, had an emergency plan, but the scope and scale of these events was just beyond,” says Keith. “It took a great deal of effort, workarounds, and great partnership. We were able to start clean up and repair work within 14 hours.”

Washed out roads, including the Trans-Canada Highway, meant SRY’s employees and contractors couldn’t reach the affected sites initially. But, working with local officials, the large majority of SRY’s network was operational within two days.

SRY returned to 100% normal operations by December 30th, just six weeks after the first storm hit.

“The level of commitment shown by employees was extraordinary,” Keith says, with emotion in his voice. “During the storms and in the aftermath, people were doing whatever they could. Some employees drove for hours to detour around closed roads to get themselves, tools, and equipment safely to where they needed to be to help. And, during the rebuild, everybody had a role. No ask was too great.”

Keith is thankful for the assistance SRY received from rail partners and others. And he says all rail players in southern BC will need to “act in concert” to partner, plan, and mitigate against future weather-related infrastructure failures.

Keith says resiliency needs to be further hardwired into a collective approach to risk planning for catastrophic events.

“These events brought home how important it is for people to work together to solve for, and support, one another. We need everyone to participate for the common good, to identify issues that can be mitigated in advance so we prevent a future occurrence.”