Opinion

Rural drivers face challenge of delays from coal trains

Empty BNSF coal trains, which usually travel into the United States via White Rock, will be rerouted through rural Langley, starting next Monday, July 7. They will be using the lightly-travelled Southern Railway of B.C. rail line from a junction at Livingstone, just east of 232 Street, to the U.S. border at Sumas. - Frank Bucholtz/Langley Times
Empty BNSF coal trains, which usually travel into the United States via White Rock, will be rerouted through rural Langley, starting next Monday, July 7. They will be using the lightly-travelled Southern Railway of B.C. rail line from a junction at Livingstone, just east of 232 Street, to the U.S. border at Sumas.
— image credit: Frank Bucholtz/Langley Times

This summer, drivers in rural North Langley will get a taste of what Langley City drivers deal with on a daily basis — slow-moving coal trains which block crossings and cause traffic headaches.

The Southern Railway of B.C. (SRY) line between 232 Street and the Langley-Abbotsford border winds through farmland, is located just south of Thunderbird Show Park and also services customers at Gloucester Industrial Park. There are numerous level crossings located along the line. Most do not have flashing lights or crossing gates, simply stop signs.

The rail line generally sees one train a day in each direction. They usually run at night.

It will now host at least three empty coal trains daily. They are coming from Roberts Bank, and travelling to the Canada-U.S. border at Sumas. Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway, which hauls the loaded trains into Canada through White Rock, is doing some bridge repairs in the U.S. and needs to divert several trains a day. Using this underutilized trackage made sense to both railways.

There isn’t likely to be any problems with coal dust or other contaminants from the cars, as the trains are empty. However, they are long and will move slowly, as the SRY track is not designed to handle large numbers of these heavy trains and speed limits are quite low.

The main inconveniences will be to drivers, particularly during the day. Some of the trains will run late at night.

I was up at the Sperling siding on 240 Street Monday morning to take a photo of one of the first of these trains, and the traffic lineup on 72 Avenue was lengthy. Similar lineups may occur at the 248 Street crossing, as a new overpass on that street over Highway 1 opened several months ago.

Backups will certainly take place on 56 Avenue, just east of the Langley-Abbotsford border, and at numerous crossings in other parts of Abbotsford, such as Bradner Road, Harris Road, Gladwin Road and in downtown Abbotsford.

Thankfully, there is now an overpass at 232 Street, which already sees a large number of trains to and from the port. There is also an overpass on 264 Street, which goes back to the days when the tracks hosted interurban trams of the B.C. Electric Railway.

The 272 Street crossing is north of the main part of Gloucester Industrial Park.

The detours, which will last until September, should not cause too many ongoing problems for people living and travelling in the area. However, they are a reminder that where there is a rail line, there is the potential for trains at any time. People who walk along the tracks, or do not stop at the stop signs at the crossings, need to change their habits, or they may encounter a very serious problem.

It is important to remember that trains cannot stop easily, given their weight and momentum. Sunday’s one-year anniversary of the Lac Megantic tragedy reminds us that safety must be paramount.

Rail traffic is on the upswing in many parts on North America, and Langley is no exception. This detour is noteworthy mainly because it wasn’t expected.

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