EDITORIAL: Don’t diffuse train concern

With so many angles to the waterfront-railway debate, it's important that safety concerns stay at the forefront.

We’re told there are two sides to every story. Hardly.

For anybody paying attention to the polygonous rail saga on the Semiahmoo Peninsula, there are as many sides to the issue as there have been trains winding their way along the waterfront since the Great Northern Railway opened the route in 1909.

Even before White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin announced last month that he and Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts have been discussing moving the tracks inland since summer, residents have been making their voices heard on all things train related.

Protests of coal traffic – and fears that a proposed coal-terminal expansion will significantly increase it – are merely the most recent manifestation of decades of expressed concern.

Apart from safety, noise and health concerns related to rail traffic, we have also heard much about notions quite contrary to moving the tracks.

Our neighbours to the south, for example, must be a little confused about Canadians’ attitude to the BNSF line – particularly since the last thing they heard was a community gung-ho to have passenger trains once again stop in White Rock. And the Americans have their own dreams, including an economic revival spurred by the reopening of the historic Blaine Station.

It would seem that the years-in-the-future dream of relocating the line – however desirable – is serving as a distraction from more pressing issues concerning rail traffic through our community.

We should not lose focus on the need for basic rail safety, and protection from the shipping of dangerous goods, and those, like coal, that pose a subtler but no-less-real health and environmental threat.

And we should not lose sight of the fact that more factors are at play here than simply a desire for safety. The historic reason we have rails on our waterfront is that more than a century ago, a multimillionaire with dreams of making White Rock a major international port city wanted it so, and the arrival of the track was welcomed by pioneers and real-estate speculators alike.

Is it too far-fetched to see profit motives – both through increased property values in White Rock, and increasing development along a new rail corridor – underlying some of our current move-the-rails altruism?

We must continue to add our voice to those across our nation who are calling for stronger safeguards on existing rail traffic, rather than letting these calls be diffused by the smoke and mirrors.

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