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UPDATE: No deal yet on train detour through downtown Abbotsford

Abbotsford will see empty coal trains rolling through its downtown if a tentative plan between two railroads goes ahead. - Tyler Olsen
Abbotsford will see empty coal trains rolling through its downtown if a tentative plan between two railroads goes ahead.
— image credit: Tyler Olsen

The two companies negotiating to detour empty coal trains through downtown Abbotsford this summer have not yet reached a deal.

Two or three trains per day, each more than two kilometres long, would make their way through Langley and Abbotsford if a deal is finalized between two railroads. Construction on track and bridges south of the border requires Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway (BNSF) to find a new route between the Roberts Bank Coal Terminal and Burlington, Wash.

Although a firm agreement has yet to be signed, representatives of both Southern Railway (SRY), which owns a line of tracks through Abbotsford, and BNSF confirmed talks between the two companies.

A test run is tentatively planned for July 3, with full operations beginning July 7, BNSF spokesperson Gus Melonas said.

“The plan in place will be for BNSF to reroute empty coal traffic from Roberts Bank through Abbotsford down to Sumas,” he said. He said the detour plan is expected to last for 65 days.

“Safety is the number one priority,” he said.

BNSF is upgrading tracks and replacing two bridges between the border and Burlington, Wash.

The trains normally run south from Roberts Bank, through White Rock, and enter the United States at the Peace Arch border crossing.

Melonas said the trains would be around two kilometres long. They are limited to a maximum of 24 km/h through town and double that in rural areas, according to J. Singh Biln, SRY’s director of community relations. He said trains would pass through both during the day and night, depending on when they are unloaded at Roberts Bank.

"This equipment is in high demand and needs to keep moving back to the mine so typically leave on return trip after unloading," he said.

Federal rules mandate that trains clear railroad crossings within five minutes. Asked if that would be possible, Biln calculated that the trains would pass in five minutes, 12 seconds at the speed limit, although he said he "can't speculate what will actually happen."

Currently, the SRY runs one daily train on a return trip through downtown Abbotsford.

White Rock has called for trains carrying dangerous goods to be rerouted away from the tracks that hug the city’s busy shoreline. Officials wrote to Transport Minister Lisa Raitt and suggested that dangerous goods instead cross the border at Sumas.

Abbotsford Coun. Henry Braun said at the time that such a move would merely be “shifting a problem to a different jurisdiction.”

Melonas said he can’t “speculate” on whether such traffic would be diverted in the future.

The Abbotsford Downtown Business Association declined to comment on the summer train plan.

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