Surrey Mayor Linda Hepner – who was quoted earlier this decade as viewing discussion of relocating BNSF’s rail route off South Surrey and White Rock’s waterfronts as “premature” – says there may now be a perfect storm of factors brewing to accelerate the idea, including both economic imperatives, and a potential rise in sea level and bank erosion due to climate change.
“It may be exactly the right time to do this,” she told Peace Arch News last week.
Hepner, for whom rail relocation subsequently became an important plank in her 2014 campaign for office, was commenting on a $300,000 grant application Surrey made to the federal Rail Safety Improvement Program (RSIP) this summer.
The application is for the federal third of funding for a study of moving the route that would also be funded by the local governments (Surrey contributing $225,000 to a suggested $75,000 from White Rock), with the final third coming from the province.
The study, which Surrey transportation manager Jaime Boan has said is planned for a tentative timeline of spring of 2018 to March 2019, hinges on the federal response, expected sometime this fall.
But also in question is the provincial contribution, something that Hepner said has been held in abeyance by the switch over to a new government in Victoria.
“We got a lot of verbal support from the (previous) provincial government, but the funding piece was never solidified,” Hepner said.
“I wanted to go ahead (with the study) with a little funding, but all of my engineers are telling me we don’t have enough to make a dent.”
Echoing comments made by White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin in August, Hepner said a big piece of the puzzle revolves around recent discussions of developing fast rail in the Cascadia economic corridor.
In that context, creating an alternative route – probably along Highway 99 – would make a lot of sense, Hepner said, adding that the province would be an economic beneficiary of the faster movement of freight and passengers through the corridor.
“If that were on the board, that would make a difference. It’s just time now to start thinking about this – this is going to happen in the history of the Semiahmoo Peninsula.”
The fate of the old rail line, once relocation is achieved, is something for further study, Hepner said.
“Whether it becomes a trail or a bike path, or whether there would be some element that was historically preserved, would be another discussion,” she said.
She added that her main priority is “the long-term safety of the Peninsula.”
“The erosion of the bank along the (current) line is frightening. There are certainly indications that the climate is shifting. If the sea level were to rise, how much more erosion can we expect?”