EDITORIAL: Safety first?

Surrey politicians' talk of rail safety and moving the track feels opportunistic

Perhaps Surrey Coun. Judy Villeneuve said it best when she explained why she and her colleagues unanimously passed a motion last week calling for slower trains through Crescent Beach.

“It gives us one more tool to say we’re committed as a council and a community to working on this issue,” she told Peace Arch News.

Mayor Linda Hepner, whom Villeneuve credited as also being behind her motion, said something similar in the lead-up to the fall civic election.

Staging a media event near the Beecher Street railway crossing in September, Hepner – backed by longtime incumbent Villeneuve and soon-to-be-elected council hopefuls Mike Starchuk, Dave Woods and Vera LeFranc in the Nov. 15 Surrey First sweep – pledged to focus on rail relocation, saying it’s important for voters to know “where to put their mark on the ballot.”

Of course, while civic leaders maintain safety is their primary motivator, they have no control of train speeds and track locations.

A little over a year ago, this fact was certainly not lost on then-councillor Hepner, when White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin joined her predecessor, Dianne Watts, in hosting a forum to push for rail relocation.

Noting at that time that the issue is under federal control, Hepner told PAN the idea of a waterfront “Utopia” without tracks has come up many times over the years. She also commented on how the mayors’ “premature” proposal of moving the tracks inland would have implications for Surrey’s agricultural land, and she was adamant farmers would be part of any discussions.

However, nine months later, at Hepner’s Sept. 16 media event, she said that if elected mayor, she would immediately engage railway owner BNSF in discussions to have the tracks moved to a more direct, faster and safer inland route.

What a difference an election makes.

No doubt our elected officials have safety on their minds. The BNSF route edges Boundary Bay, over both the Serpentine and Nicomekl rivers, as it winds its way to White Rock, blocking street access to Crescent Beach homes and businesses several times a day. And residents’ concerns over potential landslides and dangerous freight have been well-documented.

But when elected officials talk of the importance of letting residents know they care – without any meaningful action to back that up – it feels opportunistic.

Perhaps in the back rooms it makes sense for politicians to talk about the importance of being seen to be doing something… anything. But if safety is the ultimate goal, one must wonder why they want voters to know they’re likely just spinning their wheels.

Peace Arch News