East-Side Railway Woes: Is There a Light at the End of the Tunnel? | So Good News


A rail line is coming back to life in an East Side neighborhood — and residents aren’t too happy.

After a decade of silence, the rail line that runs through Strathcona rumbled back to life in January 2017. With little warning, slow-moving trains began snaking along the formerly dormant tracks, causing traffic jams for commuters and noise-related headaches for nearby residents. The tracks, which for years had contributed to the area’s industrial character – and provided excellent blackberry picking in the summer – were suddenly alive.

Between six and 12 trains a day, some in the middle of the night, began screeching and rumbling along the stretch of rail between the Port of Vancouver and the Glen railway yard on the False Creek flats. Drivers and cyclists traveling to and from downtown were suddenly stopped in their tracks as the trains slowly crossed Venables, Union and other streets.

Now, more than a year after the line was reactivated by CN Rail, the trains continue, with no clear timetable and no end in sight. Safety and noise have become major concerns for those who live near the tracks, as well as for city officials, who were as surprised as anyone by the dramatic increase in train traffic.

Rush hour

With trains blocking major thoroughfares during rush hour, drivers will run the train and try to beat it to the intersection, says Winston Chou, Vancouver’s director of transportation and data management. Meanwhile, there have been reports of cyclists and pedestrians climbing between train carriages, especially when a train has stopped on the tracks.

“People think, ‘Either I can hurry up and beat the train, or I’m going to wait here for 20 minutes,'” says Chou. “There is a problem. From a security point of view, people are starting to do crazy things.”

But while all this traffic disruption and noise may seem unfair, it is perfectly legal. CN controls the track and has the right to use it. As to why CN decided to increase activity on the line, the answer is less clear. The railway company did not respond VanMagits request for comment, but representatives have previously said the change was made to restore service to Vancouver’s intermodal terminals.

Pete Fry, a Strathcona resident and community advocate, says he’s heard it has to do with a disagreement between CP and CN, but said it could also be a byproduct of the growth of the port’s Centrem container terminal in Vancouver. “We’re going through massive expansion in the port, and it could be as much about preparing for the inevitability of,” says Fry.

Brayden Dyczkowski has a different theory. He lives with his wife and baby in a Strathcona house about 10 meters from the tracks. He believes the increase in trains has to do with the 15-year battle over the unused Arbutus tracks, which ended with CP Rail getting about half of the $100 million it demanded from the city for the sale of the land. The battle ended less than a year before CN resumed operations on the Strathcona tracks.

“It just seems like too much of a coincidence,” he says.

Safety first

Whatever the reason, the trains are here to stay. But while Dyczkowski recognizes CN’s right to use the line, he also expects respect from his neighbors — including industrial neighbors valued in the tens of billions of dollars. His primary complaints have to do with CN’s poor maintenance of the fence between his house and the track, and the middle-of-the-night ratings.

“The whole train goes bang bang bang all the way down, almost like a hammer in the ear if you’re within 20 feet of it. It shakes our whole house, says Dyczkowski.

“It’s funny. They don’t seem to do it during the day, but they usually do it between two and four in the morning.”

Dyczkowski, Chou, Fry and others also worry about drivers speeding north on Campbell Avenue — past a social housing complex and community center — when traffic on Prior is stopped by a train.

“There’s not a lot of thought given to the large amount of kids that live along that street. It’s kind of scary,” Dyczkowski says. “It feels like it’s only a matter of time before someone gets hit.”

The city has applied for federal funding so it can install early warning message boards, which will allow drivers heading in and out of downtown at Prior and Venables to choose an alternate route if a train is coming. This could greatly reduce the amount of traffic going through Strathcona.

But aside from the warning signs and ongoing talks with CN, Chou says, “there are limits” to what the city can do. “We’re trying to encourage CN to be a good neighbor,” Chou says. “Railway operates in an urban environment. It’s not the same as operating it out on the prairies.”

What do you think of the railway? Let us know in the comments below!


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