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Train traffic disrupts Barnston Island residents’ ferry commute

Some residents say they wait more than an hour to cross channel

The Barnston Island Ferry is used by residents and individuals who work on the island daily. Photo by Rica Talay
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Reported by Rica Talay

An increase in freight train traffic on a small island on the Fraser River between Surrey and Pitt Meadows is disrupting residents’ access to the road that leads to the only ferry to and from the community.

Barnston Island residents took their complaints to CN in a town hall meeting early last month but are not confident anything will be done to alleviate the delays.

Increase freight traffic could create large waiting times

Peter Hoffmann, a local resident and owner of Barnston Island Herbs, said the wait times have gotten worse in recent years. Hoffmann said he has waited as long as over an hour to get across the tracks.

“I’ve had instances where I had to phone the CN police and try and get them to move the train, and there’s been a couple of times where they’ve actually uncoupled it,” Hoffmann said. “[The trains are] so long now – they’re five kilometres long — so it’s going to be blocking quite a ways down the track and they don’t move. Their response?  ‘Well we have to try and fix the train.’ Well, we have to get home.”

Donna Gilmore, another local resident and owner of Painted River Farm, said she’s worried the train delays could cut off residents and business owners from accessing the mainland during an emergency.

“If we have customers that are coming to pick up products on our farm, they’re turning around [when they see the train], ” Gilmore said. “I’ve had the veterinarian sit at that train track for up to half an hour waiting to get over for an emergency, and they’ve had to turn around and leave.”

Ferry is important for the community

Kelly Sinoski, a media relations officer at Metro Vancouver, said the island is part of Metro Vancouver’s Electoral Area A, and is home to 176 residents, 49 of whom are on the Katzie First Nation reserve.

The ferry runs across Parsons Channel on the south side of the Fraser River. It picks up passengers from the north bank of Barnston Island and travels five minutes across the water to the northeast corner of Surrey at 104 Avenue.

Approximately 200 cars and 80 people use the ferry daily, said Stan Erickson, the ferry’s captain, who added the increase in train traffic is also an issue for ferry workers.

“We’ve all lived with it because we work on the ferry, too, and when we want to go home at night there’s trains across the track,” said Erickson, who’s worked for the ferry for six years. “Nobody’s happy about it, but we’re not going to get a big train to move for a few people.”

Kate Fenske, the CN media relations manager for Western Canada, said in an email to The Voice that rail activity along the area has increased this year because of improved economic conditions and growing business.

“CN is aware that its railway activities may have an impact on the residents in the areas through which it passes,” Fenske said. “CN tries to make efforts to minimize the effects of its activities as much as reasonably possible, taking into account its service obligations to its customers and operational requirements.”

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