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Where will it go?

  - Black Press
— image credit: Black Press

Will Cloverdale be asked to take more trains to benefit White Rock and posh South Surrey neighbourhoods like Ocean Park and Crescent Beach?

That’s the question locals are asking after the mayors of White Rock and Surrey revealed they’ve been privately talking for months about the possibility of rerouting the BNSF railway away from the waterfront – presumably through Cloverdale.

“Seems like this is caving to the rich folks,” said Ginger Hartman on the Reporter’s Facebook page.

Advocates of the plan cite the recent Lac Megantic oil disaster, the push to increase coal train shipments, the death of a jogger hit by a train in White Rock, the slide-prone escarpment in Ocean Park and the state of a crumbling railway bridge over the Campbell River for seeking what they call a safer route.

And they say clearing trains and the railway off the waterfront would open up an ocean-side promenade running from White Rock to Crescent Beach, and beyond to Tsawwassen.

According to White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin, the cost of moving the railway line to a new alignment could cost $350 to $400 million.

He said staff from the two cities have been working jointly to prepare a business case to reroute the railway line since August.

It was unclear as of press time exactly what route a new railway line might take to bypass White Rock.

A public forum on the issue was slated for Tuesday night.

“There are significant safety issues,” Mayor Dianne Watts told the Reporter. “No alignment has been selected. We are merely getting feedback from the community.”

BNSF railway officials have only said they would “review a substantial plan if submitted.”

Sending the trains north to connect to the tracks running east-west through Cloverdale would mean more trains carrying coal, garbage and hazardous chemicals running through the community.

Surrey Coun. Linda Hepner said she would want more information on the proposal’s implications for agricultural land in Surrey.

Donna Passmore, campaign director for the Farmland Defence League of B.C., said her group would “go to war” if rerouting the tracks meant alienating more farmland.

But Passmore said she understands the proposal to involve rerouting trains via existing rail connections in the Fraser Valley, rather than building a new right-of-way through Surrey farms.

On that basis, she said, she’d support removing the waterfront railway to reduce the risk of a spill contaminating the ocean.

“If we can move the trains without further destruction of farmland or the environment, it must be done and done quickly.”

South Surrey-White Rock-Cloverdale MP Russ Hiebert warned the cost of rail relocation would be “tremendous” – pegging it closer to $500 million – and predicted the money would have to come from governments before railway owner BNSF would even consider the notion.

He also predicted it would face fierce opposition from residents of neighbourhoods proposed for a new rail line.

– With files Black Press

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