SOUTH SURREY â€” A week after White Rock council voted to begin the formal process of requesting the federal government move the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail line away from the waterfront, Surrey First is making the issue an election priority.
During an event held Tuesday (Sept. 16) at the Beecher Street rail crossing at Crescent Beach, Surrey First mayoral candidate and current council member Linda Hepner said they were committed to working with the federal government to have the tracks moved elsewhere.
Currently, access to Crescent Beach is blocked off entirely whenever a train is passing through the area. As such, concerns have been raised that something as simple as a train blocking access could be the difference between life and death if there were ever a medical emergency on the beach.
â€œAbsolutely nothing trumps safety and here in Crescent Beach weâ€™re seeing more trains, longer trains, weâ€™re seeing heavier trains,â€ said Hepner. â€œSo, on the one hand, while thatâ€™s saying the world wants to do business with us, and thatâ€™s great on the flipside of that, is that these trains are now completely isolating an entire community.â€
Referring to the recent decision by Port Metro Vancouver to approve a coal terminal expansion at Fraser Surrey Docks that would see 640 more train trips a year pass through the area, Hepner said it was time to act, as the problem will only be getting worse.
â€œThat is a major safety issue, it has become more frequent and what concerns me more is slope stability,â€ she said. â€œI am not convinced that the slopes are not being compromised by the increased weight and frequency of the trains weâ€™re seeing today, so where does that leave us?â€
Surrey council broached the subject of rail relocation last fall when they held a joint open house with White Rock about looking at rail relocation. At the time, four potential relocation routes were shown, which in turn upset other residents of Surrey.
While approximately 1,200 Surrey residents call Crescent Beach home, others wondered why residents elsewhere should have to suffer through having a rail line through their neighbourhoods.
Some of the routes proposed at the time included cutting through Agricultural Land Reserve, as well as one that would run parallel to Highway 99 before moving into Delta.
In response, Hepner and her fellow councillors at the time said the talks were â€œpremature,â€ and that the bigger issue was that of rail safety as a whole.
â€œItâ€™s so premature, itâ€™s actually diluted the conversation about rail safety,â€ she said in December 2013. â€œWithout a willing partner and without those discussions, itâ€™s probably too early to have that conversation.â€
But with White Rock prepared to force some kind of action through the Railway Relocation and Crossings Act (RRCA), Hepner said it was now crucial that Surrey has its say.
â€œI want to make sure that I am advocating for us to continue to work with the feds,â€ she said adding that she would join White Rock in applying the RRCA. â€œI 100 per cent agree with that; if push comes to shove, weâ€™ll use the Railway Relocation and Crossings Act.â€
The RRCA is an official appeals process through Transport Canada, by which municipalities can â€œfacilitate 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.â€
Finally, asked why this was a Surrey First issue rather than a city council issue, Hepner said she wanted residents to know that Surrey First would be prepared to carry this issue beyond the election and would remain committed to getting this done.
Hepner said the process would likely take at least five years, which was the length of time White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin estimated for the relocation.