Politics Blog

Frustrated with BNSF traffic, White Rock to request relocation of waterfront tracks

The railroad: the lifelines of the economy, or “a constant source of anguish for residents?”

A main symptom of BNSF Railway’s growing pains is the friction it creates in the communities the company’s trains pass through. Train traffic has seen a post-recession revival, this year approaching the historic peak reached in 2006. In addition to economic recovery, factors contributing to the boost in traffic include a boom in domestic oil production in North Dakota, and a surge in coal exports to Asia, with millions of tons of Wyoming coal taking trains to southern B.C., to be packed onto ships.

The Bellingham Herald has published several articles in the past month about BNSF’s plans to expand in Whatcom County to accommodate growth. Those plans are met with resistance. For years, Bellingham City Council members, activists and regular residents have been concerned about the possibility of a new, 1.6-mile siding from Fairhaven to the downtown — a project BNSF says it doesn’t need to build.

County residents between Ferndale and Bellingham have wondered why early signs of construction are appearing along the railroad line there, between Slater Road and Marine Drive. BNSF is planning to double-track its line both south and north of Ferndale.

Acme Valley residents are wary over the prospect of more coal trains in the east county.

Turns out the growth in BNSF’s traffic is disturbing our neighbors to the north, too.

Everything from more train whistles to the possibility of an oil train derailment are “a constant source of anguish for residents” of White Rock, B.C., according to a report on the Vancouver Province website. In response, the city will request the federal government to take steps to move the tracks away from the waterfront.

The recent approval of a coal export facility at Fraser Surrey Docks was the last straw for city officials,the story said.

“‘Up until a few years ago we effectively lived beside a quiet country road that’s become a four-lane highway,’ said (White Rock Mayor Wayne) Baldwin. ‘With the Fraser Surrey Docks proposal to increase the number of trains, that four-lane highway is now a six-lane highway…so we have to do something.’”

The article acknowledged that the small outpost of White Rock, pop. 19,000, will have a hard time gaining traction with Ottawa and BNSF on its request. But federal statutes do allow for it, and White Rock will try to solicit the aid of Surrey (pop. 468,000) and British Columbia.

“‘A lot of people that are going to say this is dream,’ (City Council member Grant Meyer said). ‘You have to start somewhere.’”