Politicians have been addressing rail safety as an increased concern on the Semiahmoo Peninsula in recent years. Below

Moving tracks inland does little for Surrey: mayor

A technical feasibility study on realigning the BNSF train tracks from the White Rock/South Surrey waterfront will cost about $700,000.

A technical study on whether it’s feasible to move the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway train tracks inland from the White Rock and Surrey waterfront will cost about $700,000.

And it’s a move that will largely benefit White Rock and do little for Surrey residents, according to Mayor Linda Hepner.

“The real winners would be the City of White Rock,” Hepner told Peace Arch News’ sister paper, the Surrey Leader, Wednesday.

“They don’t have to look at ‘what are the implications of that move and what does it mean for others?’”

That said, she notes relocation is worth a closer look.

“It’s a big decision and worthy of analysis,” she said. “We are probably not the only city in the country looking at… vulnerabilities and what the options are.”

Surrey council voted Tuesday evening to have staff examine the possibility of cost-sharing with the province and White Rock before finding a firm to conduct the study.

White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin – who along with his council named rail relocation as one of the city’s strategic priorities last fall – said in September that his city was waiting for Surrey to commit to a joint application to the Canadian Transportation Authority on the matter. Noting that “three-quarters of the rail frontage is in Surrey,” Baldwin said it makes more sense that the cities band together on the issue.

“If there’s going to be an accident, it’s going to happen in Surrey, so they have a vested interest in this,” he said, a sentiment he reiterated at his Oct. 7 state-of-the-city address to the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce.

Earlier this month, Hepner told PAN that she agreed the two cities “need to have a united front on this issue” and that there are some “Surrey-specific issues” that need to be examined first.

In September 2014 – in one of the first public speeches of her Surrey First mayoral campaign – Hepner announced in Crescent Beach that she was committed to relocating the BNSF line, pledging a focus on the issue and naming safety as her biggest concern with the trains. She cited the impact to access and egress from Crescent Beach whenever a train breaks down in the area, and questioned how many more heavy, long trains the bluffs can take.

Train passes then-candidate Hepner's speech“These trains are now completely isolating an entire community,” Hepner said, promising that, if elected mayor, she would immediately engage BNSF in discussions to have the tracks moved to a more direct, faster and safer inland route.

She also acknowledged then that she hadn’t always backed the call for relocation, noting in the past she was “not certain the frequency (of the trains) warranted it.”

A year earlier, following a city forum on rail relocation, Hepner described discussion of a “Utopia” without tracks on the waterfront without BNSF support as premature, and said the issue is not isolated to Surrey/White Rock.

“The question arises that, if we’re going to move our rails, who else in this nation may wish to move theirs? It’s such a big conversation and we’re a ways away from that coming to fruition,” she said in December 2013.

Train activity along White Rock’s waterfront has increased over the past 16 years, leaving several residents in that city concerned about possible negative outcomes. The route sees trains run along the White Rock and Crescent Beach waterfronts.

Fears heightened after the Lac-Mégantic derailment disaster in July 2013. Forty-seven people in the Quebec town were killed in that petroleum explosion, which levelled roughly half of the downtown core of Lac-Mégantic.

A jogger was also killed on the tracks in White Rock that same month.

A corporate report to Surrey council outlines some of the other concerns being raised by residents near the track.

“Transportation of simple construction materials and mail has transitioned to include coal and other materials such as chlorine and liquefied natural gas,” the report to council states.

It outlines concerns of locals, including noise disruption, public safety, bluff erosion, dangerous goods, incident management and environmental concerns.

The report indicates the technical study and preparation work will cost at least $700,000.

The cost of moving the tracks is estimated at at least $350 million to $450 million, and far more if the track needed to be realigned to a spot underground.

And that’s the only way Hepner would consider moving it.

“I am not prepared to talk about moving the track from one arena, and then creating a problem in another arena,” Hepner said Wednesday. “All of that work I want better-defined before we look at that.”

It will take three to five years to complete all the preparation work, including studies and consultation with the federal transportation agency.

– with files from Melissa Smalley,  Alex Browne & Tracy Holmes

Linda Hepner campaigns in Crescent Beach

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Body found after ‘suspicious’ fire near Langley/Surrey border

No cause of death announced; investigation continues, say RCMP

Clothing donation bins in Surrey are crucial for hospital auxiliary

Program is the organization’s only source of income not greatly affected by pandemic

Surrey council gives nod to office tower at southeast corner of Central City mall

The 25-storey office tower is proposed for 10045 King George Boulevard

COLUMN: Me to We Scandal – Should Teachers Be Recruiters?

Classrooms must be centres for education, not indoctrination

21 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in B.C. as virus ‘silently circulates’ in broader community

Health officials urge British Columbians to enjoy summer safely as surge continues

Tough time for tree fruits as some B.C. farm products soar

Province reports record 2019 sales, largely due to cannabis

Abbotsford woman starts petition to have B.C. government help with IVF costs

Jennifer Kuiken says cost of in vitro fertilization is too high for most people

‘Let’s all do a self-check’: Okanagan mayor reacts to racist vandalism targeting local family

Home of Indo-Canadian family in Summerland was targeted on evening of July 13

Province agrees to multimillion-dollar payout for alleged victims of Kelowna social worker

Robert Riley Saunders is accused of misappropriating funds of children — often Indigenous — in his care

B.C. businessman David Sidoo gets 3 months behind bars for college admissions scam

Sidoo was sentenced for hiring someone take the SATs in place of his two sons

PHOTOS: Inside a newly-listed $22M mega-mansion on ALR land in B.C.

The large home, located on ALR land, is one of the last new mansions to legally be built on ALR land

COVID-19 gives B.C. First Nation rare chance to examine tourism’s impact on grizzly bears

With 40 infrared cameras deployed in Kitasoo-Xai’Xais territory, research will help develop tourism plan with least impact on bears

RCMP searching for culprit behind needle-filled lemons left on Coquitlam-area trails

The two lemons found were thrown away leaving police with little evidence

Most Read

l -->