New Rail Traffic for the Interurban Line?

With empty BNSF trains using the SRR of BC Line, to return to the USA via Huntington/Sumas,

the antiquated CPR/SR of BC junction at Clayburn should be modernized and improved. A definite benefit

for a Vancouver to Chilliwack TramTrain service.

It looks like the Southern Railway of BC, is to carry empty coal trains from Roberts Bank, thus increasing capacity for the single track BNSF from the USA to Vancouver.

Zwei looks at it this way, the SRR of BC needs the revenue from the BNSF’s empty coal trains and the track renewals would better support a TramTrain service from Vancouver to Chilliwack.

Two or three empty coal trains a day will not create much difficulty in operating a passenger service and increased track maintenance and signalling improvements would improve operation of a TramTrain or alike service.

Stay tuned, the fun is about to begin.

Coal Train Traffic Cut in Half

With all of the community concern and public opposition here to increased coal shipment through White Rock and along the shoreline of south Surrey, it should be welcome news that the BNSF Railway is looking at detouring some of its coal train traffic away from the Semiahmoo peninsula. The OK the PK railway news website ( carried a news report earlier this week detailing upcoming changes in the BNSF’s train schedules that have been confirmed by BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas. If you are a train nut (meant in a nice way) and “love the smell of creosote in the morning” the Ok the PK is a great site that allows you to keep an ear to the rail.

Unfortunately the upcoming changes to coal train traffic are not being done because of opposition to coal train traffic here and full loaded coal trains will still head north from the U.S. into Canada carrying Powder River basin thermal coal. What the BNSF are doing is to detour the empty coal trains from the Westshore Terminals at Roberts Bank east into the Fraser Valley through downtown Abbotsford to Sumas and south to Burlington in Washington State. There is construction on sections of track and several bridges south of the border on the regular route and redirecting these trains to the east allows work crews more time on the tracks without stopping for safe passage. The empty trains are also much lighter than the ones full of coal chugging north by the Peace Arch so they are better suited to the Abbotsford lines that currently only see one train a day in rail traffic.

Although Mr. Melonas confirmed that an agreement between the BNSF Railway and Southern Rail Link (SRY) that owns the tracks through Abbotsford has not yet been reached, he is confident that one will soon be signed. In fact a test run of the first empty BNSF coal train leaving Roberts Bank is scheduled for July 3rd with regularly scheduled runs of two to three of the two kilometer long trains a day beginning on July 7th which will run both day and night. This change in coal train routing is expected to last for 65 days when the construction south of the border is scheduled to be completed. While Abbotsford Council has yet to react to these upcoming changes, it is worth remembering that when White Rock called for trains carrying dangerous goods to be rerouted to the Sumas crossing, their Councillor Henry Braum said it would simply be “shifting a problem to a different jurisdiction.”

It will be interesting to see how this coal train detour works out as it is unlikely that residents of downtown Abbotsford are used to the types of delays that were common throughout Langley before the Gateway overpasses were built and which still occur at Crescent Beach for long stretches of time. Because of the low train traffic in Abby, many of the level crossings do not have flashing lights or drop bars with vehicle traffic being halted only by a stop sign. While Mr. Melonas is on record saying that “safety is the number one priority” it might have been a good idea to upgrade the crossings before letting long coal trains pass through the city, even if they are only travelling at a maximum speed of 24 km/h through the downtown core and double that in rural locations. While the Abbotsford Downtown Business Association or their city hall has yet to comment on this change in rail traffic in their community, if there is any pedestrian or vehicle accident involving a BNSF coal train in the next couple of months, there will likely be hell to pay.

When this experiment is over, it might give credence to the concept of the BNSF moving dangerous goods through Sumas instead of Peace Arch. While this may not be needed at all times, it would certainly be worth considering when we experience heavy rains that increase the risk of slides onto the Semiahmoo tracks. I believe that when the BNSF tracks here are off limits to the Amtrak passenger train because of the slide threat, dangerous goods should be rerouted away from the known slide zone that is the Ocean Park bluff. The same can also be said for when we are experiencing high tides and strong storm surge which has damaged the rip-rap boulder defences in the past and once washed out the tracks leaving the rails suspended four feet in the air. With the BNSF tracks running is such a perilous place next to the ecologically sensitive waters of Boundary Bay, steps should be taken to reduce the likelihood of a derailment, chemical spill, or environmental devastation. Think about that the next time you see one of those 120 tanker car unit trains carrying explosive Bakken crude oil rolling north through White Rock or spot tanker cars of deadly chlorine gas from the Canexus chemical plant in North Vancouver heading south to the US.

For those of you who have an interest in rail safety in the Rock, Councillor Grant Meyer and the Rail Task Force are holding a town hall meeting on Monday, July 7 at 7 p.m. at the White Rock Community Centre, 15154 Russell Ave. at the base of the BOSA towers. If you want your chance to say your two bits worth on issues concerning railway relocation, fencing of the rail corridor, rerouting of dangerous goods, beach access, rail safety or any other topic that is train related (did I forget air horns?) this will be a prime opportunity. While White Rock bills itself as “The City By The Sea” it is also the city by the tracks and as recent events have shown, there is nothing like changes to the waterfront involving the BNSF railway to raise the hackles of the community or incur the wrath of the mayor. I hope to see you there as It would take more than a fully loaded freight train to keep me away from this important meeting. Keep an eye out for the members of SmartRail and consider joining this local rail safety group that monitors the tracks, infrastructure and freight movements while advocating for safe railway transportation through our little corner of the world.

Naturally yours,
Don Pitcairn


One Response to “New Rail Traffic for the Interurban Line?”
  1. Christina Kehler says:

    I am one of the lucky people who lives along the hopefully temporary route for the BNSF trains. It is not fun. The decibel level and length of the horn-blowing, the length and noise of the trains, amplified because they move so slowly along our section of track, the horrible smell of diesel that drifts across our property (which makes my husband literally ill) and the fact that they come and go as they please–particularly at night–is turning me into a nervous wreck.

    Even the short “toy train” that Southern Rail runs is heavy on noise and smell and specializes in coming through at night. Why, I ask, are the engineers required to produce four-plus looooong blasts of the horn at every crossing? How many vehicles are even on the road at 4 a.m.? My personal belief is that idiots who do not stop and check crossings are best removed from the gene pool if they get carried off by a train. At least the mental well-being of everyone living along the tracks would be better preserved.

    I am very much against the light rail idea, again because of noise. We can hear the sound of the West Coast Express as it hoots and clatters past tiny roads, driveways, etc. near Mission. Adding something like that just outside our window just doesn’t bear thinking about. Have mercy on us!

    Zwei replies: The Stadler GTW adhere to EEC noise laws and are very quiet, compared to freight trains.

    Sadly, you live near a railway (by choice?) and must accept that railways must carry freight to survive. Excessive noise from horns, bells, etc., can be altered by local municipal bylaws.