White Rock has taken a step back into history with what some view as a draconian Transport Canada edict to fence off access to the beach as a response to safety concerns about the proximity of pedestrians and BNSF train traffic.
The death of a jogger last year, and an incident in February in which a senior wandering from a care home was struck a glancing blow by a train, have led to increasing scrutiny by the federal agency – the results of which are just beginning to be seen.
A gate has just gone up at the West Beach boat launch, and six-foot-high chain-link fence is about to go up along the west edge of Bayview Park, along the foot of Coldicutt Ravine and along the stretch of rail from the Finlay Street crossing east to Semiahmoo First Nation land.
The rest is under negotiation at present, but if Transport Canada gets its way, a similar six-foot fence could stretch all the way along the waterfront promenade, limiting access to the beach to a handful of controlled crossings.
It’s reminiscent of the old days, around 100 years ago, when any conflict between the city and the Great Northern Railway – granted the land under and around around the tracks in perpetuity – would result in the railway fencing off the rails regardless of the access needs of residents.
In often litigious proceedings – according to Lorraine Ellenwood’s Years Of Promise, White Rock 1858-1958 the railway was often cited for violating an order from the Supreme Court of Canada to “provide and maintain reasonable crossings.”
Matters were eased in later years, as both parties realized that being able to access the beach was not simply a railway safety issue but also a water-safety issue.
Nothing about this has changed in the 21st century, in which the ability to respond to a marine emergency can’t be held at the mercy of railway regulations.
Hopefully reason will prevail and a perceived “overreaction” will be remedied.
But there’s another factor at play – the behaviour of residents around the line. It’s no use simply blaming the current moves on a single fatal misjudgment. The fact is that observation of flagrant disregard of even rudimentary safety precautions on the part of the public provided the tipping point for the current orders from Transport Canada.
Some may decry the current moves as an overreaction, but we each need to take ownership of our actions.