The idea of track relocation in South Surrey and White Rock went off the rails with a public presentation on Nov. 26 – at least as far as the head of Surrey’s transportation advisory committee is concerned.
Coun. Tom Gill said he feels city staff “dropped the ball” in promoting the ‘Rails To Trails’ plan to the public at the forum – which included presentations from both Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts and White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin – without first running it past the transportation committee.
Public excitement anticipating relocation of the route, expressed by many since then, has been tempered by skepticism and negative comments from others who are critical of pushing perceived safety and noise concerns onto other neighbourhoods inland.
Gill told Peace Arch News Monday that while discussion of topics such as rail relocation from the current BNSF waterfront route in both communities to alternate alignments inland will always be welcome at the committee, the safety of existing routes must always be the primary focus.
And, he confirmed, the committee has no current plans to pursue funding options for relocation of the main line.
Four proposed relocation routes were presented at the packed open house, at which Gill acted as master of ceremonies, with Watts and Baldwin as the only scheduled speakers.
Gill said he was asked “at the last minute” to attend the event and act as MC – and participated “given that the meeting was set” – but that his transportation committee “should have had a full presentation” first.
“In my last transportation committee meeting, as chair, I gave a friendly but strong reminder to staff that the ball was dropped, given our governance role,” he said. “I felt, and some of my colleagues felt, that we didn’t follow the regular process on this, and that’s something we’re usually very good at.”
Asked whether he felt that presentation of the initiative was “staff-driven,” Gill declined further comment, except to say “these are questions that will be asked at the next transportation advisory committee meeting, and, I suspect, at the next agricultural advisory committee meeting as well – that’s when we’ll get to the meat of it.”
Coun. Linda Hepner, chair of the agricultural advisory committee, was not available for comment Monday.
Last week, Watts told PAN the open house was about “beginning the conversation” and that future gathering of information related to track relocation will be in the hands of the advisory committees.
Baldwin noted the ‘Rails To Trails’ plan presented at the meeting – which showed how the waterfront line could be replaced by a network of hiking trails – was entirely a Surrey initiative, and that he remained committed to exploring relocation as the ultimate solution to White Rock’s rail-safety concerns.
“It’s a great vision of what might be,” he said.
However, Coun. Mary Martin last week answered one resident’s concerns about moving the tracks inland, saying realignment “will not happen in the near (future), nor in the foreseeable future.”