Surrey wants BNSF to slow Crescent trains

Mayor Linda Hepner said ‘it’s the least we can do’

In light of unsuccessful efforts to get provincial and federal funding for a Semiahmoo Peninsula rail-relocation study, Surrey council voted to formalize a request for trains to slow down near Crescent Beach.

Surrey council passed a motion Monday to contact Transport Canada and railway owners Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) to ask for trains to reduce speed to 10 m.p.h. from south of Christopherson Steps to Crescent Beach Marina.

Prior to the vote, Coun. Judy Villeneuve told council that if trains reduce speed before taking the turn into Crescent Beach, “I think there would be a lot fewer disconnections on the train.”

Villeneuve listed 14 instances since 2014 when a train was stopped on the track, either from decoupling or mudslides. A stopped train, she said, can prohibit emergency personnel from reaching the beach.

“As you can see, there’s a pattern. The last blockage of both accesses was for 2½ hours. It’s clear to me that some action needs to be taken place.”

(A stalled BNSF coal train blocked both roads to Crescent Beach July 21 after the crew identified a problem with a coupler unit.)

Villeneuve said the reduced speed would result in a four-minute-and-30-second freight travel time increase for rail traffic.

“This council has worked very hard to get the funding for a rail-relocation study. We have put our money on the table, as has White Rock. But, concurrently, we haven’t been able to achieve other level of government funding to move forward with that relocation study,” Villeneuve said to council.

Villeneuve made note of a meeting organized by South Surrey-White Rock MP Gordie Hogg, which included representation from BNSF, Transport Canada, White Rock and the provincial government.

RELATED: ‘Huge disappointment’ leads to Peninsula rail-relocation forum

“We approached the issues not only from a safety issue, but from the concern about climate change. The response has been that they’re going to have to look at a wider study in order to give it consideration,” Villeneuve said.

Mayor Linda Hepner said asking BNSF and Transport Canada to reduce speeds in that corridor is “the least we can do.”

Council unanimously passed the motion.

“It’s important that we show leadership on this very important issue before we have other tragedies that happen on the track and we’re aware of the dangers of blocking ambulances,” Villeneuve said.

Contacted Tuesday, Villenevue said she did not know the current speed limit for trains travelling through Crescent Beach.

Reached after Tuesday’s press deadline, BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said speeds are set by BNSF engineers, and “safety is the top priority.”

“BNSF operates safely per BNSF engineering standards, and we meet Transport Canada requirements,” Melonas said.

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