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Pemberton council seeks funding to reduce rail hazard

Accident highlights the need for safe crossing



If the Pemberton council has its way there will soon be a controlled rail crossing in the centre of town.

The dangers of having an uncontrolled, poorly lit and unguarded rail crossing in the centre of town was highlighted two weeks ago when a 32-year-old female was struck by a train not long after she had left the Pemberton Hotel.

Pemberton Mayor Elinor Warner said the council had tried to fund a rail crossing in the past but had been unsuccessful due to a lack of support from BC Rail.

Warner said she hoped the provincial government’s bid to sell B.C. Rail to CN Rail was successful because it would to benefit Pemberton.

"We’re expecting a report in the next couple of weeks but if CN Rail is successful in buying B.C. Rail then hopefully they might want to establish a relationship with the town and help us get the money for a controlled crossing," Warner said.

"We really campaigned for a controlled crossing four or five years ago and raised $12,000 to go towards it and we were hoping B.C. Rail would raise the rest.

"It would have cost about $150,000 but we just didn’t have those kinds of dollars.

"My thinking is that maybe CN Rail will want to have a presence."

Warner admitted the town had a couple of "bad" railway crossings and she was concerned with the lack of lighting on the Pemberton Hotel side of the tracks.

"Where the hotel is there’s plenty of lights but if you face the tracks there’s no light there; it’s very dark on the other side and I would like to see B.C. Rail put lights up.

"The thing is that it’s also being used as a bus depot so you get people hanging out."

Vice President of Communications with B.C. Rail Alan Dever said B.C. rail did reviews of crossings and would recommend that action be taken if there was an obvious risk to the public.

But Dever said people often took a lot of unnecessary risk around railway tracks.

"People take risks with trains because they don’t understand what danger there can be; I mean this is a heavy piece of industrial equipment that takes a long time to stop," Dever said.

He said trains were required by law to sound their whistles as they approached crossings and their studies have shown that it is the most effective way of telling the public about oncoming traffic.

"Under the rules trains are required to sound whistles at crossings in a specific sequence.

"We sound two long whistles and one short and then a continuous blast until the train has fully occupied the crossing.

"We have incidents in the past where train crews have not done that but in most of those cases it was because they realize it’s inconvenient for residents.

Despite the regulations, Dever said the public needed to be more aware of trains and trespassing on B.C. Rail land.

"Trains are quieter than they were 30 years ago," he said.

"But people also walk around with walkmans and things like that, which makes it hard for them to hear.

"People seem to trespass (walk on) on B.C. rail property all the time but these people need to realize that they’re putting themselves in jeopardy."

Manager of the Pemberton Hotel Andrea Fournel said it made a lot of sense to put a crossing or even a walkway across the tracks.

"I’ve been here nine years and nothing’s happened but I’m surprised it (an accident) hasn’t happened before," Fournel said.

"We’re (the Pemberton Hotel) right there in front of the tracks and they run right through the middle of town so it makes sense to block them off.

"A footbridge would take you up and over, which would be really good because then you’ve got no choice but to take the bridge." Constable Michelle Nisbet from the Whistler RCMP said the investigation into the accident involving the 32-year-old female was ongoing and therefore she could not provide any conclusive evidence as to exactly what happened.

But she said the RCMP would support any initiatives that promote safety, including pedestrian crossings and/or crossing controls.

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