Loud and piercing BNSF train whistles – or most of them, at least – should be silenced on White Rock’s waterfront before the new year, according to a report from city engineering and municipal operations director Jim Gordon.
At Monday night’s council meeting Gordon reported that the city appears to have jumped through most of the hoops required by Transport Canada for approval of “whistle cessation” – including reconstruction of eight waterfront railway crossings.
The federal government contributed more than $1.63 million in funding the crossing upgrades to meet new Transport Canada regulations, with additional cost sharing by BNSF.
Gordon said that – even allowing time for deficiency remediation and confirmation of details with BNSF and Transport Canada – “we’re hopeful that we can have whistle cessation in place by the end of the year.”
An important step in the process came Monday night, when council voted to receive Gordon’s report for information, endorsing a resolution that – subject to completion of deficiencies relating to the crossings – the city formally agrees that train whistles should not be used at the crossings. A notice explaining the city’s position will also be published in news media and on the city website.
“Then all we need is the technical evaluation (of the crossings),” Gordon said. “Then we’re all set.”
The bad news for residents who have long sought relief from the whistles is that they can’t be eradicated entirely – Gordon said that while the new crossings address previously-noted safety issues, train whistles would still continue in the Coldicutt Ravine area of West Beach and other nearby areas where people are known to cross railway tracks to access the beach.
Whistles will also be sounded around uncontrolled crossings on Semiahmoo First Nation land east of Finlay Street, Gordon noted.
“We’ve certainly had a lot of interest in this community for stopping the whistles,” Gordon said, adding that an open house in June 2017 at White Rock Museum and Archives showed that “everybody was firmly behind the plan to do this.”
The city engaged in extensive consultation, and design collaboration, on the crossing upgrades with BNSF and Transport Canada.
The crossings were completed this year with improved signage and crossing surface specifications, as well as better sightlines and warning systems, and the city and the railway seem to be “on the same page” that the crossings meet safety requirements, subject to remediation of any deficiences, Gordon said in his written report.
But Gordon told council that whistles must still be sounded in the Coldicutt area, where First Nations archaeological sites are still being investigated.
“There’s a lot of archaeolgical impacts if we start building fences and things over at Coldicutt,” Gordon said.