EDITORIAL: Years of guesswork on rail relocation

Are any estimates to move the Semiahmoo Peninsula's waterfront rail lines more than just a guess?

Best guesses are just that – guesses.

When BNSF officials tell a Canadian parliamentary committee that moving White Rock and South Surrey’s waterfront rail route inland will cost “billions,” it is – as South Surrey-White Rock Conservative MP and committee member Dianne Watts rightly pointed out to Peace Arch News, and BNSF freely admitted – a figure pulled from the air.

But are the only other estimates – produced at a community forum initiated by then-Surrey-mayor Watts in November 2013 – any less of a guess?

Those estimates pegged the cost, then, at somewhere in the $350-450 million range. But with all due respect to the city staff who produced these figures, it’s likely they were not the result of any detailed engineering study.

If the BNSF, with all its resources, hasn’t even begun to do this kind of analysis – as was clearly evident from comments senior railway management who appeared before the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in Ottawa last week – it’s a fair bet that the two cities haven’t ponied-up for a serious engineering study either.

The fact is – whether you stand for or against rail relocation – no one has yet begun to do the all-important math on the proposition. At this point, it’s all guesswork.

On this basis we’d be willing to grant an edge to those actually in the business of building, running and upgrading railways – even taking into account BNSF’s evident reluctance, to date, to even contemplate the idea of relocation.

In the absence of an exhaustive engineering study of this particular terrain, best guesses by outsiders, right now, are based on comparisons with other similar rail-line work done by BNSF elsewhere. But the railway advises such comparisons are deceptive.

Relocation has been a topic of discussion for years, of course, but it’s interesting that it is only now – with the investigation of the Standing Committee – that BNSF is saying it would be prepared to look at the idea.

It begs the question of what work elected officials of Surrey and White Rock have actually done on the issue to this point.