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Delta train line to expand ahead of new coal port

Coal trains, like this one in neighbouring White Rock, could soon be a common sight in North Delta along the BNSF Railway line.  - File photo
Coal trains, like this one in neighbouring White Rock, could soon be a common sight in North Delta along the BNSF Railway line.
— image credit: File photo

The owner of a Delta rail line is proposing to build a siding track in North Delta to handle an expected increase in coal trains bound for the proposed coal port at Fraser Surrey Docks.

American-owned BNSF Railway currently transports coal, Canadian softwood lumber, paper products, and general merchandise between the Lower Mainland and the U.S., as well as Amtrak Cascades passenger service from Vancouver to Seattle.

A delegation from the company visited Delta Council on Monday to apprise them on the progress of the proposed North Colebrook Siding, to be located between south of 64th Avenue to north of 72nd Avenue on the eastern portion of what is the MK Delta Lands proposal.

The current rail alignment is 36 metres from the nearest residential areas and the new siding would be installed on the east side of the track, even closer to the backyards. BNSF said the goal is to allow trains to move off its main line for other rail traffic to use the corridor without interruption.

“[It] allows for the more safe movement of rail traffic, both freight and passenger,” said Johan Hellman, executive director of government affairs with BNSF. “It also allows for the railroad to be able to accommodate those larger volumes.”

Delta’s chief administrative officer George Harvie invited BNSF in a July 2013 letter to appear in a delegation to discuss concerns over blowing coal dust from parked rail cars on the siding. The company has made assurances this won’t be an issue.

Since BNSF owns the right-of-way to the corridor, under the Canada Transportation Act it does not require Delta’s approval to proceed with the project.

Railway companies are not required to undertake public consultation for projects within their rights-of-way, but must provide a 60-day public notification of the construction to adjacent property owners.

However, the company would require permission to enter the Burns Bog Ecological Conservancy Area to undertake geotechnical studies regarding the impact to Delta’s Cougar and Blake Raven creeks, over which the rail right-of-way crosses. If those water courses would need to be modified in any way, Delta Council would need to formally approve that request.

Hellman said BNSF is about 30 per cent done the engineering for the design phase of the project, and that it shares some issues of concern with the municipality regarding drainage and pedestrian safety.

The area currently sees localized flooding in the creeks during heavy rainfall and there may be an opportunity to address drainage issues through construction.

As well, unauthorized pedestrian crossings on the track has led BNSF to suggest it work with Delta staff to find measures to enhance safety for those who continue to flout the trespassing law to reach Watershed Park.

“Safety is paramount to the railroad and it makes [us] nervous when people are traversing our tracks in different ways,” said Hellman.

Council approved a motion requesting staff work with BNSF regarding pedestrian safety and drainage issues.

Coun. Jeannie Kanakos expressed “grave concerns regarding the potential of coal trains being parked on the proposed [BNSF] train track.”

Kanakos put forward an amending motion requesting further information on the project regarding environmental and quality of life impacts, but was defeated.

There have been numerous complaints made to the municipality and the rail company regarding frequent train whistles, which the company says is necessary whenever an engineer sees someone or something amiss on the tracks.

In July of 2013 a White Rock woman was killed by a passenger train on the East Beach portion of the BNSF railway line while jogging with her husband.

BNSF wants to put up fencing to prevent easy crossing of the tracks rather than a proposal that involves an overpass or signal crossing.

But Delta’s engineering director Steven Lan said the municipality has identified three well-used pedestrian crossings along the BNSF tracks and would prefer to find a safe way for residents to access the Delta-Surrey greenway.

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