A woman crosses the tracks in White Rock as an Amtrack train approaches.

Mayor ‘will resist’ fencing, signal arms along White Rock waterfront

Transport Canada advises consideration of train-safety measures, following summer pedestrian fatality.

Suggestions to improve pedestrian safety around White Rock’s waterfront train tracks are not sitting well with the city’s mayor.

Wayne Baldwin said Thursday that Transport Canada has proposed signal arms, fencing and warning lights and sounds for the promenade – suggestions that he described as impractical and reactionary, triggered by the July 14 train death of jogger Anita Lewis.

“They were making suggestions that we should seriously consider this kind of thing and talk with them about it,” Baldwin said, dismissing them as ineffective and generic.

“I just thought that would be the kind of solution I would come up with if I were in Ottawa and I had never been here before. I would go through my list of possible solutions and just (reiterate) them and that would be it.”

Baldwin said he “will resist, fully” if the agency insists on “fencing and unnecessary arms and so on.”

A Transport Canada spokesperson told Peace Arch News Monday that a joint review requested of the city and BNSF focuses on current whistling exemptions in the area, and involves “reviewing signage, signals and fencing to protect pedestrians and vehicles, and to determine if any changes are needed to mitigate public safety and rail-safety risks.”

The agency’s own review of the sightlines, signage and train operation at the crossing where Lewis was killed found all of the elements to be in compliance with the Railway Safety Act and associated rules.

Lewis, 42, was hit by a passenger train as she jogged across the tracks in the 15600-block of Marine Drive at about 9:45 p.m. July 14. Despite efforts of off-duty emergency responders in the area, she did not survive.

An Amtrak spokesperson told PAN the following day that the crosswalk where Lewis was hit “has no protection.”

“There are no gates or whistles or anything,” Vernae Graham said.

At the request of the city, overnight train whistles (8 p.m. to 6 a.m.) along White Rock’s waterfront were restricted in August 1992. Guidelines continue to mandate that engineers sound the train’s warning whistle as it enters the White Rock area, again when it leaves and whenever deemed appropriate.

Baldwin noted that the crossing where Lewis was hit is the first one encountered by northbound trains entering the waterfront area.

He said Transport Canada’s recent suggestions are similar to those posed following the February 1997 death of 11-year-old Leif Everson. The boy died in hospital after he ran in front of a passenger train in the 15400-block of Marine Drive. He was not at a pedestrian crossing.

Baldwin said flashing lights and signal arms would not have prevented that tragedy. He noted these measures were in place in Ottawa Wednesday, when six people were killed in a crash between a transit bus and a Via Rail passenger train.

“In (Lewis’s) case, it might’ve helped, maybe, but then I would point out you had flashing arms and everything in Ottawa and that didn’t stop a terrible accident from taking place, so what else are you going to do?” he said.

“You cannot prevent some things from happening. Nothing reasonable people can do under reasonable circumstances employing reasonable methods will… stop all accidents.”

While the B.C. Coroners Service has yet to release its report on Lewis’s death, Baldwin said police have confirmed Lewis was wearing headphones on the night she died.

Baldwin described Transport Canada’s suggestions as the agency’s “recipe for success.”

“In their position… they can’t ignore it, they have to say something, so that’s what they say – without considering necessarily whether it’s practical or not under the circumstances.”

Baldwin said he is arranging to meet with Lewis’s widower, Mike Grahame, to discuss possible suggestions that Grahame has for improvements.

City engineer Greg St. Louis told PAN the ongoing safety review will include a tour of the area with BNSF safety engineers and other officials. He noted the comprehensive effort was identified as a city priority before Transport Canada made the request.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said safety is a regular topic of discussion between the railway and the City of White Rock. He noted that trespassing incidents along the waterfront between the border and Crescent Beach have not declined in the wake of Lewis’s death.

Much responsibility for safety rests with those who are crossing the tracks, he said.

“You can fence, you can put up signage. The largest change has to be the individual who is trespassing on private property. Even going across a crossing, they’re certainly not exempt,” Melonas told PAN.

“Bottom line, we want the public protected and don’t want anyone to get hurt.”

Transport Canada has asked the city and BNSF to complete their review by Oct. 31.

 

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