WHITE ROCK – For more than 100 years, the railway track that runs the length of White Rock’s waterfront has been a simple fact of life. But the traffic has steadily increased in recent years, to the point where it’s become a constant source of anguish for residents. Having heard from countless residents impacted by train whistles, concerned about dangerous goods and the simple increase in train traffic and length, the city has said enough is enough.
On Monday night, White Rock council voted to formally begin work on approaching the federal government to have the rail line, owned by Burlington Northern Sante Fe, relocated away from the waterfront.
Citing the recent approval of the Fraser Surrey Docks coal terminal expansion (which adds 640 train trips a year) as something of a tipping point, White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin brought forth a motion to that would begin a formal appeal process through the Canadian government to have the tracks moved.
"Up until a few years ago we effectively lived beside a quiet country road that’s become a four-lane highway," said Baldwin. "With the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal to increase the number of trains, that four-lane highway is now a six-lane highway…so we have to do something."
That "something" will come in the form of devoting staff time and effort towards working on a proposal using the Railway Relocation and Crossing Act (RRCA). According to the act’s wording, it is "designed to facilitate the relocation of railway lines or the rerouting of railway traffic in urban areas in situations where a railway company and the relevant government body cannot agree."
Baldwin said the city’s case was strong and, as part of the work, it would be necessary to partner with the Semiahmoo First Nation, the City of Surrey and the province to get the traction needed for a successful application.
"This process will require an investment of staff resources and should have support before work begins," he said.
Coun. Grant Meyer, head of the city’s Rail Safety Task Force, said he was happy to support the motion, but noted that it was just the first step in what would likely be a lengthy process.
"A lot of people that are going to say this is dream… you have to start somewhere," he said, noting that the open house held last year with Surrey was the beginning of the idea. Meyer said this issue affects Surrey as much as White Rock.
"Poor Crescent Beach there, those people are literally cut off. (If) it’s a medical emergency or a derailment, there’s a potential disaster waiting to happen."
Residents in attendance were overjoyed with the move.
"How can I thank you enough for doing this?" said resident Susan Potts. "I’m looking forward to doing anything to assist council in this. There’s a lot of support in the community for this and I want to thank you."
Ken Jones, a former councillor and MLA said council was "showing leadership and this is always what we needed in this area," and that he hoped "this isn’t just an idle promise – that it will be followed through."
Baldwin noted the process will continue in conjunction with the city’s current work with Transport Canada and BNSF to maintain safety along the tracks.
"This journey begins with a single step and let us takes it now and not get ahead of it," he said.