The City of New Westminster is hoping the spirit of cooperation will lead to positive action with railways.
New Westminster city council has approved the establishment of a railway community advisory panel, which would include representation from the city and the four railway companies operating in New Westminster. A staff report states that the city and the rail companies have agreed it would be mutually beneficial to establish a committee where issues such as infrastructure improvements, planned developments, pedestrian and road crossings, train whistling, community complaints and safety concerns.
"The intention here is advisory in nature," said Jim Lowrie, the city's director of engineering. "That goes both ways."
Because there are four railway companied passing through New Westminster, Lowrie said that creates a "degree of complexity" to dealing with issues concerning railways.
When the relationships between the city and the railways are adversarial and political in nature, Coun. Chuck Puchmayr said everybody loses. He said the advisory committee is a "great step forward" and will start to work on creating a nurturing relationship between the city and the railways, so they can address issues like shunting and whistle cessation.
"I think we do that by sitting down with the railways and building that trust," he said.
Mayor Wayne Wright said more and more trains are travelling through New Westminster than ever before. He said communities are living with rules that were created a hundred years ago, so it's important that cities work with railways to address those issues.
Lisa Spitale, the City of New Westminster's director of development services, said the community advisory panel is one way to get the community to work with railways, to discuss common issues, and is a process supported by the Canadian Transportation Agency.
"What we are trying to achieve is a more cooperative approach, more collaborative, as opposed to confrontational," said Roger Emanuels, the city's manager of design and construction.
Coun. Bill Harper hopes to see concrete improvements coming out of the formation of the community advisory panel. "Other than just having discussions, we expect some kind of results," he said.
The panel's terms of reference state that its purpose is to provide a forum for the exchange of information between the Canadian Pacific, Canadian National, Southern Railway of British Columbia and Burlington Northern and the Santa Fe. They will meet, discuss and provide updates of plans, concerns and issues and assist in resolution between the railways and the city.
The panel, which will meet quarterly or at the call of the chair as issues arise, will include members from each of the railways, city council, city staff and residents.
Emanuels said the community advisory panel will explore the possibility of different issues, see if they can find common ground and take those concerns back to their respective bodies to see if they can reach an agreement.
"They can be very reluctant to do things that affect them economically," he said of railways.
Coun. Jaimie McEvoy admitted that he's a "bit skeptical" about the process because railway companies have been reluctant to address issues such as whistles or stop using pesticides along railway tracks located near parks in the past.
"Over the years, there hasn't been even a little bit of give as far as I could see," he said.