Pedestrians, not trains, make up a sizable portion of Vancouver Island’s railway traffic these days, which has raised alarm bells for South Vancouver Island Railway, the Island Corridor Foundation and the B.C. Safety Authority.
With fewer trains on the tracks, railway maintenance and inspection crews see more people ignoring crossing signals and trespassing on railway property by walking and hiking on the tracks, often wearing ear buds so they can’t hear approaching trains and maintenance vehicles.
Railway and ICF officials are asking people to stay off the tracks for their own safety.
“With VIA not running, we’re still running freight trains,” said Graham Bruce, Island Corridor Foundation executive director. “With all the news in the media, more and more people are starting to walk on the rails. They’re walking their dogs, they’ve got music in their ears.”
Bruce said he is confident passenger service will return, but people should be aware that it is currently an operating railroad.
The foundation and Southern Vancouver Island Railway kicked off a safety awareness campaign Wednesday, as rail workers hung rail safety awareness banners from the Chase River rail overpass above the Island Highway.
On Vancouver Island since 2006, there have been 28 collisions between trains, cars and pedestrians, which have killed four people. Three of those deaths happened in Nanaimo.
Don McGregor, Southern Vancouver Island Railway general manager, was aboard the VIA Rail Dayliner when it struck and killed Catherine Anne White, 53, of Nanaimo in December.
“It definitely raised my awareness for what the crews are facing when you have trespassers on the track, McGregor said. “It’s a personal note to me and that’s a lot of the reason for the drive behind this campaign.”
Bruce said the campaign will intensify as rail traffic increases and trains follow new schedules to accommodate rail passenger service.
The Island Corridor Foundation is working with municipalities and First Nations communities to build a continuous hiking and biking trail from Victoria to Courtenay, but it will take several more years to complete.
Sgt. John Blaase, head of Nanaimo RCMP Traffic Services, said the RCMP is working with the railway and the foundation to help educate the public about railway safety and if necessary enforce trespassing laws.
“Even a close call with a train can be devastating because they can’t stop on a dime unfortunately,” Blaase said.