Monday, May 15, 2017

Reducing the negative impacts of freight rail in our communities

Last week, I attended the Lower Mainland Local Government Association's annual conference. The LMLGA represents the voice of local governments in the Squamish-Lillooet, Metro Vancouver, and Fraser Valley Regional Districts. A friend of mine and Councillor in New Westminster, Patrick Johnstone, posted an overview about his experience at the conference on his blog.

One of the interesting sessions that I attended was on railway proximity issues. The session included presentations by representatives from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), Port of Vancouver, and CP Rail.

Langley City like most municipalities in Canada grew around railway lines. Over the years, this has created noise, traffic, and safety issues. Railway companies have traditionally taken the approach that they were there first, and that any migration measures to reduce the impact of railways were the responsibility of government. I was told by panellists that this is no longer the case, and that railways are looking to partner with communities.

As an example, the FCM and Railway Association of Canada released “Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations.” It is the hope that local governments throughout Canada adopt these guidelines.

Where there is room, the following diagram illustrates an ideal design to protect built areas from rail lines.

Standard mitigation for new residential development in proximity to a main line railway. Select diagram to enlarge.

Since we don’t live in an ideal world, the guide also contains other mitigation techniques such as the following.

Example of reduce-setback mitigation for new residential development in proximity to a rail line. Select diagram to enlarge.

The regulation of railways is generally the responsibility of the federal government, and the feds do provide funding to move railways out of urban centres. In Langley City, the railway used to go right down Michaud Crescent and Glover Road. The railway in our community was already relocated.

Our community has grown, and so has the volume of rail traffic. The number of trains going through Langley to Port of Vancouver facilities is predicted to increase to over 60 trains a day.

Over the last 15 years, a series of overpasses have been built at 192 Street, 54 Avenue, 196 Street, 204 Street, and Mufford Crescent to mitigate the impact of increased rail traffic through our community. These projects were funded by all levels of government, the port, and railway companies.

Even with this work, there are still three key roads where there are level crossings in the City: Fraser Highway, 200 Street, and the Langley Bypass. With 60 trains a day, these roads will be impassable. Because of the current volume of traffic, and because these crossing are in built areas, constructing overpasses or underpasses will be a costly and disruptive endeavour.

I asked the panel members if they could think of other completed projects in Canada, similar to what is needed at 200 Street and Fraser Highway. While I didn’t get specific examples, I was told that it is possible.

At some point in the next decade, serious planning will need to start to grade-separate the railway crossings at 200 Street and Fraser Highway. It will take funding and support from all levels of government, and the railway companies.

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