White Rock West Beach visitors ‘not getting message’

Bollards are being installed at White Rock
Bollards are being installed at White Rock's West Beach boat launch this week.
— image credit: Tracy Holmes

Incidents of vehicles parking across the railroad tracks at White Rock’s West Beach boat launch prompted city officials to install a row of bollards at the site this week.

Director of engineering and municipal operations Greg St. Louis said Wednesday the posts are to block vehicles but will not prevent public access.

He said the problem of vehicles being stopped on the tracks to unload kayaks and other beach gear has persisted despite recent and ongoing attention to rail safety, including last month’s installation – and subsequent removal – of a locked gate at the site.

“On several visits, there were people parking across the tracks still,” St. Louis said. “They’re not paying attention.

“If a train would’ve come, it would’ve collided with the vehicle.”

The work is an interim measure until flashing lights and a gate can be installed. The bollards will be locked in place; emergency and city crews will carry keys.

Coun. Grant Meyer said Transport Canada has agreed the measure will reinstate the city’s overnight whistling exemption.

“The main thing is it’s going to restore the nighttime  whistling to what it was,” he said.

Mayor Wayne Baldwin announced the step during Monday’s council meeting.

“It’s one of the conciliatory things we can do – if that’s what we have do, that’s what we have to do,” he said.

Work at the site earlier this month led some residents to believe that crossing arms and lights would soon be installed.

But despite the speculation, “it’s nothing to do with trains,” St. Louis said, clarifying the steps were to add landscape lighting to the recently built plaza at Bayview Park.

The installation of crossing arms at the site – and elsewhere along the waterfront – has been a topic of much debate for the past year. Meetings between city, BNSF and Transport Canada have become almost routine, as details of safety upgrades triggered by a death on the tracks last summer get hammered out.

St. Louis said flashing lights and a gate at West Beach is a longterm measure, and anticipated to cost about $300,000.

He said it will be at least a year before any such work gets underway. And he remains hopeful it won’t need to be as extensive as first thought.

“I think everybody is onboard that warning devices of some nature need to be installed… flashing lights and bells,” St. Louis said.

He noted the city and BNSF must formally agree on the measures before any work takes place.

In the meantime, adding a form of meshing to the black handrail is being considered as an interim solution to address trespassing on the tracks.

While there has been considerable angst over the suggestion that six-foot-high fencing could be installed along the entire waterfront, St. Louis said that move is “not even on the table for us.”

He estimates meshing would reduce trespassing on West Beach by about 80 per cent.

Increased enforcement and education around rail safety are also part of the “couple-pronged approach,” with the latter to include representatives of Operation Lifesaver attending this weekend’s Sea Festival. The rail-safety initiative is a partnership of the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada that aims to educate Canadians about the hazards surrounding rail property and trains.

“If we can get all these things in and people not trespassing, it works out better for everybody,” he said.

Creating pedestrian crossings between the pier and Bayview Park – after 10 gaps in the black hand railing were closed – is another focus of discussions.

St. Louis is in the process of applying for grants from Transport Canada to assist with the upgrades. The agency will pay up to half of rail-improvement costs, to a maximum of $500,000, he told the city’s rail safety task force.

“With the issues we’re having… we should have a good chance of getting some funding from the government.”

- with files from Alex Browne


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