A letter from B.C. Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Todd Stone to federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau has thrown provincial support behind a study of relocating the BNSF railway’s current route along the Semiahmoo Peninsula shoreline.
The letter, conveyed to Garneau via Surrey-White Rock MLA Gordon Hogg and Fleetwood-Port Kells MP Ken Hardie, supports the call for a relocation study from the cities of White Rock and Surrey and urges similar support from the federal government.
In his letter, Stone says: “Railway safety and proximity issues, and their impact on quality of life, are important issues for the ministry…. I am encouraged that the municipalities of Surrey and White Rock have proposed a study to assess the costs and benefits of possible realignment options of the BNSF line.”
Stone says he has told Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner and White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin that he supports the initiative, and encourages Transport Canada to support the study, as both it and the Canadian Transportation Agency have “roles and responsibilities related to freight rail.”
Stone noted the cities’ suggestion that a relocation of the BNSF route, achieved via the federal Rail Relocation Act, would not only address safety, environmental and community concerns, but could also provide “a more direct route from a travel time and operational standpoint.”
Relocation of the shoreline route, raised by the cities in a joint initiative in 2013, was the subject of hearings as part of a study of rail safety by Standing Committee of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in April of last year, and a subsequent committee report.
Hogg, noting that both he and Hardie – a member of the committee – have been active in response to the communities’ initiative, including a meeting with Stone, Hepner and Baldwin last June, told Peace Arch News last week that he welcomed Stone’s support for the study.
“I am pleased the (provincial) government is supporting a study of the economic, cultural and social impacts and potential enhancement of the area (through relocation),” he said.
“I will be asking the federal government to support the initiative along with the provincial and municipal governments… so that we can look at the costs and benefits of relocation of the line to the closest inland route.”
White Rock Coun. Grant Meyer, a longtime advocate of relocation studies and a participant in last June’s meeting with Stone, said he was happy about the followup letter.
“It’s a good step forward,” he told PAN Monday. “It definitely paves the way to get funding – getting provincial funding is a must.
“I know that both cities have put funds aside for studies. The next phase is that we’re hoping to get funding from the upper levels of government so that we can go to tender and get studies done that will give us the information we need to make some decisions – to see if it could work, and how it would work.”