The City of Surrey is looking at building an overpass into Crescent Beach in an effort to address a key public safety issue in South Surrey.
Wednesday (Nov. 3) evening, City of Surrey representatives met with residents to show off and discuss conceptual renderings of a Crescent Beach railway overpass.
The city, and residents Peace Arch News spoke to, are in agreement that limited access to the beach during emergency situations, particularly if there is a train decoupling event, poses a significant risk to public safety.
Crescent Beach is located on a peninsula that contains 390 properties, most of which are single-family residences. Access to and from the community requires crossing a BNSF rail line, which has been operating since the early 1900s.
Since 2010, there have been 16 train decoupling incidents at Crescent Beach which have completely severed the neighbourhood from all outside traffic, including emergency vehicles. In one instance, Crescent Beach was separated from emergency services for up to three hours.
Pixie Hobby, who attended the meeting, said she’s supportive of the overpass because it improves public safety and reduces vehicle emissions from idling cars waiting for trains to pass. And, she added, the concept was a creative way to respect the area.
The public safety concern in the Crescent Beach area has only grown worse in the last decade, Hobby noted. Coal trains, in particular, are running more frequently and are getting longer, she said.
“The isolation problem and lack of access for emergency vehicles is a very serious problem,” Hobby said. “In fact, there was a gentleman in the room who said he was languishing in an ambulance waiting for the train to pass. He said he would never want to relive that again. I’m glad he spoke out.”
The city presented a number of different conceptual drawings of the overpass. Hobby said she favoured a more basic approach and was not interested in a “showpiece.”
“A bit like, come on, what is this, Chicago? But I have to be realistic about myself. I am a minimalist in so many things,” Hobby said.
While Hobby didn’t express any serious objections to the overpass, she said some people who attended the meeting did voice concerns about traffic and parking. Those opposed, Hobby said, noted that improved access would only increase traffic volumes. Hobby said a view was expressed that train delays are a useful deterrent to potential visitors.
City representatives, she said, were clear that an overpass is not intended to alleviate parking or traffic problems, but rather to improve public safety.
Rail-relocation advocate Erik Seiz, who did not attend the meeting, said the concept drawings were “impressive.”
“It’s nice to see Surrey really get on board and do a comprehensive solution, I think. It would be a shame in 50 years for the same issue to still be unresolved,” Seiz said.
Aside from safety concerns, Seiz said the overpass will also save Crescent Beach residents time by not forcing them to wait for a train to pass, particularly during months when there isn’t heavy traffic.
“It is not a safety issue, but certainly it’s convenient,” he said.
Surrey Mayor Doug McCallum, who lives in Crescent Beach, indicated in a news release that the primary reason for the overpass plan was safety.
“Without any other way for emergency vehicles to get in or out of Crescent Beach during an unscheduled train stoppage is a safety issue that has gone on far too long,” McCallum said in the release.
“Ensuring emergency vehicles have access to all neighbourhoods is essential. Until we have a bypass that allows vehicles to move regardless of train traffic or stoppages, there remains a significant risk to public safety.”
While the mayor noted that council is “eager to move on advancing” the project, no timeline was provided in the release.