The Standing Committee on Transport

The Standing Committee on Transport

Moving train tracks ‘could cost billions’

MPs on Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities hear from BNSF management in study of rail safety on Peninsula

Rail relocation in White Rock and South Surrey could cost “billions” of dollars – according to a senior management representative of BNSF who appeared Monday before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in Ottawa.

Answering a question from Fleetwood-Port Kells Liberal MP and committee member Ken Hardie, Johan Hellman, BNSF executive director of government affairs (who appeared by video conference from Seattle) said the railway “could only guess” at what relocating the route off the waterfront to a more direct corridor to north Surrey would cost.

“It would be safe to estimate it would be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, even billions of dollars,” Hellman said.

“You have to recognize that you’re talking about major trade infrastructure – so it’s no more easy to move a railway than it is to move a seaport or an airport or a major highway,” he added.

Among many factors that would have to be resolved would be where the line could be moved to, he said, noting that much of South Surrey is either given over to agricultural land or residential development.

But South Surrey-White Rock Conservative MP and committee member Dianne Watts – whose motion to study safety of the BNSF line on the Semiahmoo Peninsula brought company management to the table in the first place – said Tuesday that such estimates are “just too vague” to be given much weight at this point.

“They don’t have that information,” she said. “There’s been no undertaking by them to study this – they’re throwing numbers out and guessing.”

(At a community forum initiated by then-Surrey mayor Watts and hosted with the City of White Rock in November 2013, officials estimated the cost of realigning the tracks at $350-450 million.)

However, Watts also said she felt the first appearance of the BNSF before the committee – attended in person by company associate general counsel Orest Dachniwsky, and, through video conference, by four other managers including Hellman – was “a very productive discussion.”

Among positives she noted was an agreement by all parties to co-ordinate discussions and resolve issues relating to the Stop Train Protocol, which allows for trains to be ‘broken’ after unscheduled stops, so that crossings are unobstructed for access by emergency vehicles.

Comments from Surrey fire Chief Len Garis about numbers of train stoppages over the last year-and-a-half – including one due to a mudslide and another due to a fallen tree – suggested there are discrepancies between the number and severity of incidents recorded by the BNSF and the fire department, but BNSF managers said they are willing to share more information they have on file.

“I was pleased that they want to continue working with us on both short-term goals and long-term goals, and flushing out what these would be,” Watts told Peace Arch News, adding that the railway has also offered to share more geo-technical reports with the committee.


Watts also noted positive feedback from first responders to the AskRail app currently in use, which provides responders “real-time knowledge of what trains are coming through the community, what goods are in the cars, what dangerous goods are travelling through, and when.”



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