En­gi­neer­ing Trou­ble

A rail line comes back to life in an east-side neigh­bour­hood—and res­i­dents are none too pleased.

Vancouver Magazine - - City - by Amy O’Brian

Af­ter A decAde of quiet, the rail line that runs through Strath­cona rum­bled to life again in Jan­uary of 2017. With lit­tle warn­ing, slow­mov­ing trains be­gan snaking along the pre­vi­ously 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 feel—and made for ex­cel­lent black­berry pick­ing in sum­mer— were sud­denly alive.

Be­tween six and 12 trains aday, some in the mid­dle of the night, be­gan screech­ing and rum­bling along the stretch of tracks be­tween the Port of Van­cou­ver and the Glen rail yard on the False Creek flats. Driv­ers and cy­clists trav­el­ling to and from down­town sud­denly found them­selves stopped in their own tracks as trains slug­gishly crossed Ven­ables, Union and other streets.

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

With trains block­ing ma­jor thor­ough­fares at peak times, driv­ers will race the train and try to beat it to the cross­ing, says Win­ston Chou, Van­cou­ver’s man­ager of trans­porta­tion and data man­age­ment. Mean­while, cy­clists and pedes­tri­ans have been re­ported climb­ing be­tween train cars, par­tic­u­larly when a train has stopped on the tracks.

“Peo­ple think, ‘Ei­ther I can rush and beat the train, or I’m go­ing to be wait­ing here for 20 min­utes,’” Chou says. “That’s aprob­lem. From a safety stand­point, peo­ple start to do crazy things.”

But while all this traf­fic dis­rup­tion and noise might seem un­just, it is all per­fectly le­gal. CN con­trols the track and has the right to use it. As for why CN de­cided to ramp up ac­tiv­ity on the line, the an­swer is less clear. The rail com­pany did not

re­spond to Van­Mag’s 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 fall­ing-out be­tween CP and CN, but, said it could also be aby-prod­uct of the growth of the Port of Van­cou­ver’s Cen­term con­tainer ter­mi­nal. “We’re go­ing through mas­sive ex­pan­sion at the port, and it could be as much about pre­par­ing us for the in­evitabil­ity of [that],” Fry says.

Bray­den Dy­czkowski has an­other the­ory. He lives with his wife and baby in a Strath­cona house about 10 me­tres from the tracks. He thinks 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 was de­mand­ing from the city for the sale of the land. The bat­tle came to an end less than a year be­fore CN re­sumed ac­tiv­ity on the Strath­cona tracks.

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

Re­gard­less of the rea­son, the trains are here to stay. But while Dy­czkowski rec­og­nizes CN’s right to use the line, he also has ex­pec­ta­tions about re­spect from his neigh­bours— in­clud­ing in­dus­trial neigh­bours val­ued at 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 shunt­ing. “

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

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

Dy­czkowski, Chou, Fry and oth­ers are also con­cerned about driv­ers who speed north on Camp­bell Av­enue— past a so­cial hous­ing com­plex and com­mu­nity cen­tre—when tra•c on Prior is stopped by a train.

“There’s not aw­hole lot of thought to the sheer amount of chil­dren who 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 would al­low driv­ers head­ing in and out of down­town on Prior and Ven­ables to choose an al­ter­nate route if there is a train com­ing. This could greatly re­duce the amount of tra•c that runs through Strath­cona.

But other than the warn­ing boards and on­go­ing talks with CN, says Chou, “there are lim­i­ta­tions” to what the city can do. “We are try­ing to en­cour­age CN to be a good neigh­bour,” Chou says. “[They] are op­er­at­ing rail in an ur­ban en­vi­ron­ment. It’s not the same as op­er­at­ing it out in the Prairies.”

Peo­ple think, ‘Ei­ther I can rush and beat the train, or I’m go­ing to be wait­ing here for 20 min­utes.’ That’s a prob­lem.”

A train grinds through at Ven­ables at Glen Drive. Strath­cona res­i­dents have been frus­trated by ap­par­ently ran­dom sched­ules and late-night noise. Wait­ing Games

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