A group of proponents for rail relocation on the Semiahmoo Peninsula have refocused their approach, starting from the ground up.
Craig Harrold launched a website, railrelocation.ca, that highlights the arguments for rail relocation as well as a source of information for people to learn about the status of the movement.
Harrold and railway relocation advocate Erik Seiz met with Peace Arch News last week to discuss the website and explain how their effort is evolving.
Seiz suggested that attention on rail relocation picks up during election campaigns or shortly after an election, only to fade away again.
“What’s really important for a vision like this is that it needs a place where it is able to live for longer than the duration of any government,” Seiz said. “The railway loves it, because they just need to ride it out until the next guy is gone.”
“Governance is just another one of those things that you can’t necessarily rely on the current structure to bring about the change that you want.”
Rail relocation has been a political issue in South Surrey and White Rock for decades. Harrold said he has a friend who witnessed W.A.C. Bennett (B.C. premier from 1952-1972) throw his fist in the air while standing on Crescent Beach and proclaiming: “We’re going to get this railway moved for you.”
The movement gained traction following the tragic derailment in Lac Lac-Mégantic, Que. in 2013. That same year, Dianne Watts Wayne Baldwin – mayors of Surrey and White Rock respectively, at the time – hosted a standing-room-only forum that presented four proposed routes for realigning the railway that currently follows the shoreline along White Rock and through Crescent Beach.
“We want to say to the people of the Peninsula, here’s all of the information (on the website). We’ve assembled everything we can possibly think of. The biggest thing is the present situation, this is where we’re at right now and what we are going to do about it. What’s the next step? The next step is the alignment study,” Harrold said.
Approximately $900,000 is required for the study and the money has not yet been secured. Surrey transportation manager Jaime Boan told PAN in 2017 that historically, projects like this are funded one-third provincially, one-third federally and one-third locally.
The split for local funding for the study, as suggested by Surrey in 2017, would call for $75,000 from White Rock and $225,000 from Surrey.
The B.C. government and federal government have not made any commitments.
Starting next year, Harrold says, he will implement a private donation feature on the website, which will allow Peninsula residents to chip in to help pay for the feasibility study.
“The people of the Peninsula are going to contribute to making this happen,” Harrold said.
Seiz said that it might take a disaster to prompt more swift action on rail relocation.
“You put in a crosswalk because enough people died at an intersection. That’s just how it works,” Seiz said. “That may well be how it plays out here, too. But regardless, I think there’s still value in building up a body of knowledge so at a point in time in the future, there’s at least some stuff there you can work with.”