A senior citizen was airlifted to hospital Saturday evening, after he was struck by a freight train on the White Rock waterfront.
According to witnesses, a man in his 70s was hit as he wandered southbound on the tracks near Oxford Street and Marine Drive.
He reportedly suffers from dementia and had wandered away from the nearby Evergreen Baptist Care Home shortly before.
BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said Monday the incident occurred at 7:50 p.m., and every effort was made to stop the southbound, 125-car train before impact.
“Upon observing the subject – he was walking in the middle of the tracks – the train crew began whistling, they sounded the bell… went into an emergency-brake application,” Melonas said. “Unfortunately, the subject attempted to step off of the tracks at the last second and the crew reports grazing the individual with the lead locomotive. It wasn’t a direct strike.”
The train was travelling at 27 km/h when the senior was spotted, and was delayed two hours by the incident, he said.
BNSF’s operating team continue to investigate, Melonas added.
Evergreen is located at 1550 Oxford St., less than a kilometre north of the waterfront down one of White Rock’s steepest streets.
Home executive director Stephen Bennett told Peace Arch News it is “amazing” that the resident – who, to this point, has lived in a wing that does not restrict in/out privileges – was not more seriously injured.
“The information we received from the hospital is that he has two or three broken ribs and a few abrasions – he’s doing remarkably well,” Bennett said.
The incident may, however, prompt a change in policy.
Bennett said Evergreen is not yet equipped with security devices employed by other care homes, such as bracelets that will trigger an alarm if restricted residents attempt to leave the building.
“What we want to determine and review is whether (having in/out privileges) is appropriate for residents,” he said.
“When all is said and done… is it even reasonable to have that? Or are there technologies that we can be putting in place so that something like this never, ever happens again?”
(A new care tower proposed for the Evergreen site was to be the subject of a public hearing at White Rock Community Centre Monday evening, after PAN press time.)
Fraser Health spokesperson Tasleem Juma confirmed the authority will also be looking into the incident, as it contracts with Evergreen for care beds.
“Steps would be taken if necessary, but it’s too early to say what those steps would be,” Juma said.
White Rock RCMP Const. Shaileshni Molison confirmed the BNSF engineer did sound the train’s horn prior to impact.
She said the police investigation will include speaking further with railway representatives.
Any witnesses who have not yet spoken to police are asked to call 778-593-3600.
Saturday’s incident occurred just 6½ months after the death of jogger Anita Lewis, who was struck as she crossed the tracks on East Beach. A coroner’s investigation into the fatality remains “active and ongoing.”
That incident prompted Transport Canada to order the City of White Rock and BNSF to complete a joint rail-safety review of the city’s six pedestrian crossings.
The three parties met last Wednesday to discuss a consultant’s findings, and efforts are now underway to develop a work plan to implement recommended improvements.
White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin said the improvements identified, had they been in place already, would “absolutely not” have prevented Saturday’s incident.
“It wouldn’t have affected it one way or the other,” he said.
That it happened, however, does strengthen the argument for relocating the tracks, he said.
“It emphasizes that there’s going to be these interactions between pedestrians and trains,” Baldwin said.
“The more trains there are… the more people we have here, the more likely something like that’s going to occur.”
– with files from Alex Browne