Plans to twin a CN rail line through the centre of East Vancouver aren’t going over well with residents in the area, who are raising noise, safety, and traffic concerns.
CN is planning to twin a four-kilometre stretch of the Burrard Inlet line that links the growing port terminals on the south shore of the Burrard inlet to its national rail network.
The port and rail company say the expansion will facilitate the growth of Canadian imports and exports while creating a better flow of rail traffic.
But locals are already raising red flags.
The line was nearly dormant until January 2017, when CN reactivated it for regular use.
It currently sees up to six trains a day, crossing Venables Street, which feeds the viaducts into downtown Vancouver. Residents and commuters say it is already creating headaches.
“What we end up seeing is a lot of people who get stuck with traffic, the buses get stuck, they’re sometimes backed up like four buses long, cars are zig-zagging through the neighbourhood trying to get out,” said Vancouver city councillor, Pete Fry, who lives in the neighbourhood.
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Su-Laine Brodsky, with the Strathcona Residents Association, pointed to neighbours’ concerns over noise from the shunting and idling of trains.
“It sounds like explosions, like train cars crashing into each other,” she said. “We’re a big country. You can assemble trains somewhere other than in the middle of your most densely populated city.”
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She added that the city’s housing plan involves adding significant density to the area, and said if the plan goes through, proponents have major concerns over diesel pollution.
“We think this is a really good place for governments and railways to figure out how to really reduce emissions along this line because it’s such a densely populated area.”
Other neighbours raised safety concerns, noting the line runs adjacent to an elementary school, seniors home and three planned daycares.
The line also crosses one of the city’s busiest bike routes and pedestrians and cyclists have previously been observed climbing over idling trains at the crossing.
“They run 24/7. We have young families outside the tracks. The tracks are not secure. There’s nothing stopping kids from running across the tracks,” said Naomi Stinton, a mother who lives in the area.
“There’s no consultation and no thought to the impact that it has on the community. We understand that this is a lifeline for the port and the greater economy at large. But there has to be a balance.”
CN says that it is currently in discussions with stakeholders about the next steps and that the plan is part of a long-term strategy that includes grade separating the line. The City of Vancouver has also previously said some form of separated vehicle crossing is in the works.
However, that is unlikely to come until a new arterial is built through East Vancouver in conjunction with the new St. Paul’s hospital and removal of the viaducts.
Brodsky says in the meantime the result will be traffic gridlock and transit passengers left idling in traffic with a doubling in rail traffic.
Fry said the issue is serious enough that Ottawa needs to step in.
“Given the significance to the nation of this port and this rail infrastructure — because this rail infrastructure takes containers all the way out to the rest of Canada — I think it’s important that the federal government, Transport Canada step to the plate,” he said.
“Make sure they’re providing the infrastructure resources like an overpass, that kind of thing, that will balance the needs of the nation with the impacts on the immediate local community.”
—With files from Tanya Beja