LETTER: Rerouting rail line through Abbotsford safer

Railway proposal from White Rock all depends on the NIMBY crowd


Re: Mark Rushton, ‘On The Other Hand’: “Reroute rather than shift the problem,” Abbotsford News, May 7

I disagree with columnist Mark Rushton’s premise of rerouting or re-aligning the Burlington Northern – Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad line (originally known as The Great Northern’s “Sea Level Line” when constructed in 1909) and diverting their trains from Colebrook (just south of Panorama Ridge in Surrey) east to Cloverdale and then south to the international border and into Blaine, Washington, allowing Surrey and White Rock councils to make the old rail right-of-way into a pedestrian walkway.

It is a proposal advocated by former White Rock councillor and ex-Surrey-Cloverdale MLA Ken Jones, an advocate of rail safety, involved with the Semiahmoo Peninsula Citizens for Public Safety (SPCPS).

It will never happen for several reasons.

One: Cost in both Surrey and in Whatcom and Skagit Counties despite potential assistance from both the Canadian and U.S. federal governments.

Two: Corridor selection, which in Surrey would impact heavily on prime farmland in the Clova Valley from Cloverdale, south to Sunnyside and then through Hazelmere, let alone into Blaine and then along the I-5 rail corridor to a point just south of the city.

Three: There would be additional congestion on the I-5 rail corridor, which is already causing problems for BNSF.

Four: Protests over the potential impact of coal trains from the United States on communities in the I-5 rail corridor, particularly from Seattle north to the border.

The Farmland Route through Sedro Wooley to Sumas (despite impacting on Bellingham Port) then through Huntingdon and Abbotsford, connecting with the Canadian National Railway line just northwest of Matsqui Village, would have far less impact of any type – safety, traffic disruption, noise, impact on residents – on any communities in Surrey, Langley, Abbotsford, Whatcom and Skagit Counties.

While problems exist with any form of transportation of any substance, rerouting BNSF trains, including the Amtrak passenger service, from the company’s railroad line from downtown Vancouver to New Westminster then onto Canadian National’s railway line on the south side of the Fraser River, then east through Surrey and Langley Township into Abbotsford, and then on Canadian Pacific Railway’s Mission to Sumas branch line through downtown Abbotsford to Huntingdon would have minimal impact – far less than on the current BNSF railroad line through White Rock. Railroad historian Barrie Sandford’s book, “Railway By The Bay,” gives an excellent account of the challenges faced by the existing line since 1909.

Please do not use scare tactics “a la Lac-Megantic,” as rail safety is being improved by the federal governments in both countries and such an event could never occur again. And, as for congestion in downtown Abbotsford, the trains would not be 200 cars long or a mile and a half, taking 20 minutes to get through from Vye Road to Clayburn.

As for converting the BNSF right-of-way around the Semiahmoo Peninsula into beachfront cottage lots, that would never happen.

Re-routing through Abbotsford is by far the safer and faster route than re-aligning the existing BNSF line to go south of Cloverdale.

But it will all depend on how much fuss will be made by the NIMBY gang in Matsqui Village and Abbotsford and communities along the farmland route like Sumas, Nooksack, Deming, Acme Field and Sedro Wooley, with necessary relaying of track that may have been abandoned and torn up during the past 30 years.


Graham Evan MacDonell



(Editor’s note: Graham Evan MacDonell was the first editor of the weekly Peace Arch News (1976 – 1979) and is a railway historian.