While moving BNSF’s tracks from the White Rock and South Surrey waterfront to an inland route was a frequently raised local issue during the recent federal election – and remains the subject of ongoing discussion between White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin and Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner – the jury is still out on whether it is a practical option, according to BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas.
He reiterated the long-time official position of the U.S.-based railway to Peace Arch News on Friday.
“BNSF is willing to review any officially sanctioned plan to move the line,” he said.
But, he warned, Semiahmoo Peninsula residents should not expect any steps to be taken soon.
“Realistically, it would be a very difficult undertaking,” he said. “We’re talking about moving an active rail line that is essential, that plays a critical role in the Canadian economy in moving goods as well as providing passenger service.”
And Melonas noted the company has made significant recent investment in upgrading infrastructure in the existing corridor.
That includes $5-10 million spent in the last three years alone, among it a $1.5-million upgrade of the Little Campbell River bridge.
Ongoing improvements to trestles in the Mud Bay area will amount to $15 million, he added.
“And we’re beginning construction plans to replace another trestle which will be completed next year, for another $5 million.”
Moving the tracks from the current alignment, he said, is “easier said than done.”
“It would be extremely expensive and the big question is where you’d be moving it to.”
A staff report to Surrey council estimates that a technical study of moving the tracks would cost at least $700,000.
The same report, supported by council – which has asked staff to investigate cost sharing for a feasibility study with the province and White Rock – estimates that actually moving the tracks could cost $350-450 million, and much more if the new route involved underground construction.
South Surrey-White Rock MP-elect Dianne Watts – an advocate, as Surrey mayor, for moving the route – has suggested plans for anticipated high-speed service between Seattle and Vancouver may force the issue of realigning the route.
Melonas declined to discuss that possibility, however, deferring to Amtrak to comment on the status of high-speed service between the two cities.
Official comment from Amtrak was not forthcoming at press time.