It’s going to be a long, slow summer now that two-kilometre-long coal trains have begun their passage through downtown Abbotsford.
At least with last weekend’s BerryBeat Festival, traffic snarls were limited to two days. Imagine what drivers are going to face up to three times a day from now until the middle of September. And if the cheers from White Rock at the lack of trains along its beachfront ring loudly enough in the boardrooms of Burlington Northern, this temporary rerouting of coal carriers just might become permanent. With Port Metro Vancouver talking of expanding shipping facilities, the frequency of trains may increase substantially.
As a reader reminded me a few weeks ago when I previously wrote about train traffic, perhaps it is time Abbotsford, in concert with the rail companies and others, began talking about lowering the tracks through the downtown core.
Many years ago in columns and editorials written for this newspaper, I advocated dropping the tracks from their low point south of downtown to their low point north in the vicinity of Clayburn Road.
That proposal would mean a rerouting of the Southern Rail line just north of town to parallel the BNSF line adjacent to Gladys/Abbotsford-Mission Highway.
From my untrained eye, it would seem possible to lower the rail grade to the point that traffic, and development, could flow east/west completely unimpeded by the presence of rail traffic rumbling below. In fact, with a cut and cover, not only could one keep the trains moving more quickly, the land where sidings now sit idle could be developed into commercial properties.
In the days of Abbotsford’s youth, feed mills dotted the downtown area and the railway station was a vital link to the outside world thanks to the old Interurban that took farm milk and produce, along with rural shoppers, ‘to the city’.
Time and progress has passed all that by, yet the land remains tied up, and the old downtown core divided by rail lines that will over the coming 65 days or so, generate congestion, slow business and incite driver frustration.
Of course, for all that to happen, there’d first need to be a closure of one of the rail lines while it was lowered, followed by the second. It would not come cheap, but I suggest that future real estate values, economic development, improved safety, and new road traffic routing, combined with speedier flow of trains, could justify the cost.
On the upside of this summer’s coal train traffic, Abbotsford might be spurred to get on with building the rail overpass on Vye Road.
Added congestion there as cars and commercial trucks wait at the rail line, along with summer traffic heading to the border crossing, is going to make Sumas Way south truly ugly as far as congestion is concerned.
We’d all best learn to schedule our trips to Costco, Buckerfield’s and the big recycling depot on Riverside.
Regrettably, the vastly increased train traffic is occurring during a civic election year, which means that mayoral and councillor candidates will be preoccupied with getting elected/relected rather than spending time exploring long-range issues.
Then in November, when you and I and a very low percentage of voters elect a new council, they will take another year to get up to speed.
At least this time, we’ll be putting a mayor and council into office for four years, which should create a bit more stability and action between election years.