File photo The transportation of heavy freight and dangerous goods by rail is a year-round feature of the White Rock and South Surrey waterfront.

COLUMN: Semiahmoo Peninsula rail relocation much easier said than done

Numerous obstacles would hinder a rails-to-trails approach

Rail relocation is an easy sell for those who find themselves jarred awake by train whistles, and decry the frequent rumblings of endless freight trains along the shoreline.

But it’s not hard to see why talk of relocation has dragged on for years.

There can be little question that reducing or removing the current spate of rail traffic from the waterfront – which far outpaces any original use of the line – is desirable.

While the loss of life of those who’ve ventured too close to the BNSF line is undeniably tragic, it has been observed that there is no rush to eradicate our busy roadways, which almost daily contribute to a much higher death toll.

Yet the heavy freight traffic through our community – particularly trains carrying coal or hazardous materials – is clearly an accident waiting to happen, and moving it to another, more inland, route makes sense in the long run.

If a future high-speed rail link between Seattle and Vancouver is being contemplated – on a route following Highway 99 – then it would also make sense to engineer and develop a corridor that could support carrying the freight traffic as well as the fast trains, as MP Gordon Hogg, MLA Tracy Redies and both White Rock and Surrey council members are advocating, and which will be presented in a citizens forum White Rock would like to schedule for this fall.

The impression that relocating the route can be achieved overnight – with the rails and ties consigned to the scrapheap the following morning – is wishful thinking at best.

The work involved in engineering such a corridor, and securing the necessary rights of way, is going to be a task of pyramidic proportions – probably outlasting the reigns of several of our local political pharaohs.

Another suggestion is that a network of existing CN and CP rail lines through north Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford and Matsqui could be used for rerouting the freight traffic, but this, too, would require herculean feats of organization and negotiations with the railway companies.

But even supposing that the current BNSF traffic is rerouted, we can’t suppose that the landscaping trucks could roll in the next minute. The more than 50 year-old rails-to-trails movement is being increasingly threatened in the US over the issue of ‘reversionary rights’ – after a 2014 court ruling established a precedent that easements on unused rail lines should actually return to the original land-owners rather than being appropriated for public use.

In the case of the BNSF line, the issue is even more complicated. Politicians long dead and gone saw fit to grant ownership of the land in perpetuity to the railway in the early 1900s. Even if the line is decommissioned, the property is not White Rock’s, or Surrey’s, to play with. Arguably, it would be the BNSF’s to develop.

Even if a valid inland route can be developed, buying the existing corridor from BNSF, or exchanging it for other property, would have to be part of a much larger series of negotiations involving not only the cities, but the provincial and federal governments, and most likely Semiahmoo First Nation as well.

It seems that the Semiahmoo Peninsula will be dealing with the railway – one way or another – for a long time to come.

Alex Browne is a reporter at the Peace Arch News.

Just Posted

‘How do you fly?’: Surrey plays host to quidditch championship

Harry Potter-inspired event is at Hjorth Road Park

Surrey RCMP doesn’t expect big hit in light of projected $10M cut in B.C. budget

Public safety minister says RCMP informed province about projected budget deficit

Surrey’s Sourdif among A-list ‘Players to Watch’ for NHL Entry Draft in Monteal next June

The right-shot forward has eight goals and nine assists with Vancouver Giants this season

‘It felt good’: Milestone cross-country win for Fleetwood Park’s Jaiveer Tiwana

After winning the boys provincial championship, he’ll compete for a national title on Nov. 30

South Surrey man and city settle beef over backyard cow

Asad Syed, who kept a calf on his property last year, met City of Surrey in court Tuesday

VIDEO: B.C. to restrict nicotine content, bring in 20% tax on vaping products

Province will also restrict candy and fruit flavoured vaping products to adult-only stores

Seguin lifts surging Stars to 4-2 win over Canucks

Dallas is 6-0-1 in last seven outings

UPDATE: Metro Vancouver bus drivers to refuse overtime as transit strike escalates

Overtime ban could disrupt 10-15 per cent of bus service in Metro Vancouver

‘City that protects rapists’: Sexual assault survivor slams Kelowna mayor for defending RCMP

Heather Friesen spent the morning handing out flyers around city hall calling out the mayor

South Surrey man and city settle beef over backyard cow

Asad Syed, who kept a calf on his property last year, met City of Surrey in court Tuesday

Batten down the hatches: Wet and windy weekend on the way for coastal B.C.

Environment Canada issues special weather warning for Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island

BC Liquor Stores to move fully to paper bags by March

Vancouver Island to be the first to convert to paper bags in November

B.C. RCMP investigating stolen boots, credit cards, booze, and beauty products

Langley RCMP investigating property crimes, including credit card fraud in Surrey

Tolko shuts B.C. divisions for two weeks over holidays

Head office to close from Dec. 23-27; two weeks’ downtime runs Dec. 21-Jan. 6

Most Read