Empty coal trains may return to Abbotsford

Railway proposes resumption of rail traffic through city, but no deal imminent.

  • Jul. 23, 2015 5:00 p.m.

The Southern Railway of BC (SRY) has submitted a proposal that would see empty coal trains resume running through Abbotsford’s downtown several times a day, this time on a long-term basis.

SRY has presented BNSF Railway with a plan that, if accepted, would see U.S.-bound trains leaving Roberts Bank Coal Terminal to be routed through Abbotsford and the Sumas border crossing.

SRY’s track runs from Langley through the northwest section of Abbotsford, then south along Highway 11 and Gladys Avenue, parallel to CP tracks.

The line saw 337 two-mile-long empty coal trains travel along the route between July 7, 2014 and Jan. 3, 2015. Those operations allowed BNSF to do maintenance work on its line through Washington state. The trains were halted when SRY locked out its workers during a labour dispute that has now been resolved.

Last month, Abbotsford mayor Henry Braun told a crowd at his State of the City address that he expected the trains to resume in the future.

SRY community relations director Singh Biln confirmed to The News that his railway had made a proposal to BNSF regarding future “reroute trains.”

Biln said a “long-term” deal was possible that would see two to three trains per day move along the route.

Those trains, he said, would help take trains off of BNSF’s main line, allowing the railway to increase its traffic there.

He said, though, that market conditions have decreased coal volumes recently.

“We expect that trains will start moving again when market conditions approve and volumes increase,” he said.

Biln said SRY will work to improve railway crossings if the route begins to see long-term, regular traffic.

BNSF public affairs director Gus Melonas said the company regularly evaluates its traffic flow and volumes. At this point, he said, BNSF is accommodating its traffic on its current routes.

“We have not made an official determination at this point on future operations through Abbotsford,” he said, noting the discussions are continuing on using other tracks.

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