COLUMN: Reroute rather than shift the problem
Apparently the City of White Rock is meeting with Burlington Northern and Santa Fe brass next week to discuss the movement of rail cars, particularly those carrying dangerous goods such as oil and gasoline, along their beachfront.
The meeting is to discuss not moving these cars past their homes and stores, and instead shift them to the BNSF that runs through Abbotsford, next to our homes and stores.
With that in mind, it might be fortuitous for Abbotsford councillors to attend this meeting, just to remind everyone involved that shifting the concerns from one place to another does not solve the problem. Again, the old NIMBY, though I must admit justifiable from a White Rock perspective.
Aside from the danger aspect of a derailment turning downtown Abbotsford into another Lac-Megantic, just think of the traffic snarls when many more trains block two of our city’s main east-west thoroughfares.
Right now there is funding in place to put a rail overpass on Vye Road to eliminate traffic blockages on that route caused by both the BNSF and Southern Rail lines – the latter causing most of the congestion due to shunting. Thus, if an overpass is required at that location, just imagine the need for similar structures, and the real estate disruptions they would cause, on Essendene and George Ferguson Way when up to 16 more long trains are rerouted through Abbotsford. And with oil transport by rail surging, it can only get worse!
Oddly enough, Abbotsford’s attempt at relieving congestion on Vye Road may become a positive factor to reroute the trains, allowing White Rock to point out that the disruptions in our city are being minimized while they have no options.
On the other hand, I don’t diminish White Rock’s concerns. It is a beautiful beachfront city that would be even more beautiful if it weren’t separated from the beach by the railway. I also understand the dangers, not only of hazardous goods but of the trains themselves. My eldest son’s sister-in-law was the White Rock jogger killed last year when she collided with a BN train.
However, there is an answer, much discussed perhaps but never acted upon, to reroute the BN line, not to Abbotsford but around White Rock.
It would be simple, realigning the tracks just south of Blaine to have them cross the border adjacent to the Pacific Highway crossing. The line there could avoid the Semiahmoo Peninsula in its entirety, and would be “at grade” just as is the present route through White Rock.
Would it be expensive? Of course, but I suggest that allowing BNSF to convert the right-of-way to beachfront cottage lots, at least along the western portion of the peninsula through what is known as Ocean Park and Crescent Beach, would more than make up the cost of railway realignment.
And since, if memory serves me right, the BNSF is owned by Warren Buffet, one of the richest men on Earth and well known as one to never turn down a money-making deal.
Warren and BN would benefit, as would White Rock with a substantially increased tax base from those lots, far eclipsing any revenues they may or may not get from the railway that so drastically disrupts its waterfront.
Additionally, with a seamless route to the west of White Rock, the trains could travel faster, meaning even more money derived from the savings of time, and Abbotsford would be spared from more rail traffic.
It is important that Abbotsford council becomes a player in any discussions relating to BN rail realignment. Done the right way, everyone can benefit. Done the wrong way, and the problem has just been shifted from one potential disaster site to another.