Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Cars lose when trying to beat trains

with 12 comments

Richmond News

Richmond has the worst record in B.C. for collisions between trains and vehicles.

The city has topped the provincial league of shame for the last two years with an average of five crashes per year.

This is really surprising considering how little train traffic there is in Richmond. The only active lines are operated by CN and both serve the south arm of the Fraser. The active track (“The Lulu Island Industrial Line“) runs along the north arm from a bridge which links it New Westminster and the main lines. It splits into two spurs one along No 9 Road to LaFarge cement and the expanding industrial Area and the other along River Road to Shell Road where it runs sharply south and reaches Fraser Wharves next to the Deas Basin. The main traffic is imported cars, though there are a very small number of industrial plants that get bulk commodities like plastic pellets by rail.

The trains are not especially frequent – and on the Shell Road line I would guess that its down to about 1 a day each way on weekdays. So managing to get the worst record in BC says something about Richmond drivers. Unfortunately there are a lot of very prejudiced remarks that are made about drivers in Richmond, but as with all the best legends there is a grain of truth. Richmond was the scene of a long running driver’s license scam – driving schools found corrupt examiners who would pass people for cash. While that practice was uncovered and stopped, no remedial action was ever taken, so those who had obtained licenses by this method are still driving.

What the story does not say is that CN has proposed to close the line along Shell Road – mainly becuase of the number of collisions at level crossings – and (*re)build the short length of track that would link Fraser Wharves with the end of track along Blundell near No 7 Road. The right of way has been levelled and preloaded but construction has yet to start.

This is, of course, a problem all over – and in this last week Network Rail in the UK released some quite remarkable footage from their cctv surveillance cameras showing “near misses”

I am afraid I have also seen too many such events – but I do not have a video camera constantly trained on my line of sight

* there was once a line that ran along the north bank of the South Arm all the way to Steveston but that was lifted many years ago. A short length of track is still in place to serve Crown Packaging from the Shell Road line but I have only seen a train on it once in ten years. And did not have a camera with me when I did

Written by Stephen Rees

February 13, 2009 at 2:47 pm

Posted in Railway, Road safety

12 Responses

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  1. See also the Vancouver Sun’s article today about the City of Vancouver’s plan to proceed with an overpass to take Powell Street over the railway from the False Creek Flats:

    Another overpass is planned for Malkin Ave (to replace the Venables level crossing, pedestrian and bike crossings for Venables and the Central Valley Greenway, and several road closures (to eliminate railway crossings).

    City Report here:

    Click to access tt3.pdf

    Ron C.

    February 13, 2009 at 6:23 pm

  2. Thanks, Ron – you beat me to it!

    I live very close to the proposed over/underpasses in Strathcona. I am a big train fan (esp. vs. tractor trailer hauling, which there is plenty of on Clark Drive), but I can’t help seeing how this could look pretty ugly and unwieldy across this section of the neighbourhood. There are a number of people stuck “in the middle” at the Raymur Housing Project, for example.

    I guess I live in fear of the “freeway to downtown” concept that has plagued this area for decades. I can’t seem to find this Gateway map on-line anymore, but it showed that the “express” access to downtown was supposed head along Clark Drive up to Venables. Step two would be to funnel traffic along Prior St. (thanks, handy overpass!) and send it downtown salad-shooter style over the Georia Street Viaduct.

    Maybe I’m paranoid, but this COV Traffic Engineering Dept. brainchild seems to have everything to do with turning Prior Street into the “highway from hell” and very little with trains (which aren’t exactly blocked from moving north to south or vice versa at this point).

    I’d love to be wrong!

    Andrea C.

    February 13, 2009 at 9:42 pm

  3. I’ve posted this image before, but really, is a “Yield” sign really necessary? When *wouldn’t* you yield to a train at a level crossing?


    February 13, 2009 at 11:57 pm

  4. David, this photo reminds me of a level crossing outside El Paso Texas. We trained and lived in a US Air Force base and everyday took a bus from the base to El Paso, to do some sightseeing, and back. The road from the base to El Paso was dead straight for like 50 miles and at one point it crossed a railway line that was also dead straight and ran as far as the eyes could see on each side as the area is a desert. YET, every single time the bus driver made a dead stop at the crossing and waited for a good 3 minutes before crossing! We all came from Europe, for a 3 weeks training period, and thought this was insane as over there–Europe– the normal way for many young people was to play chicken with trains, despite frequent horrific accidents. This is still the case, by the way, so no, not everybody yield to a train!

    Red frog

    February 14, 2009 at 12:30 am

  5. […] for good reason: Hochstein [The Hook] Groups slam province over new gag law [The Globe and Mail] Cars lose when trying to beat trains [Stephen Rees’s blog] INTERNATIONAL New bill could be boost for green roofs [Daily Journal of […]

    re:place Magazine

    February 14, 2009 at 10:00 am

  6. I remember the “cash for licences” thing in Richmond quite well. One of my fellow Community TV volunteers (a driving instructor) blew the whistle on that one. Apparently, it was a husband/wife partnership – he took the “customers” on the road test and she made the paperwork boogie back at the office. The whistle blower is a great guy and was actually promoted for his efforts.

    Playing chicken at vunerable rail crossings is another thing altogether. I’m afraid more than a few people from diverse backgrounds who’ve been legitimately licensed would find that a thrill. I would think the less experienced the driver, the greater the temptation.

    Now, please, someone tell me that the proposed Malkin Ave. overpass is NOT plot No. X to freeway-ize the southern end of Strathcona. I need some reassurance.

    Andrea C.

    February 14, 2009 at 10:44 pm

  7. Andrea C. I cannot give you much reassurance but I have friends who live in Japan and go there quite often. All sizable towns over there have elevated freeways that run above cities from one side to the other. Looks pretty ugly but it does prevent old neighbourhoods from being invaded by cars that have no business there. Even in Tokyo there are whole neighbourhoods near the centre that have barely changed for 50-70 years and are still low rise residential areas with lots of single family houses, mom and pop stores, lots of small temples etc. Freeways have also saved many European cities by taking all the cars that had no business there away from the oldest areas. I don’t have a car–by choice–but don’t believe that all freeways are evil.

    Red frog

    February 15, 2009 at 4:03 am

  8. […] have come across amazing video footage on a blog titled “Cars lose when trying to beat trains”. The blog story features information about level crossings in Richmond – a city described as having […]

  9. Amazing video material! I simply had to blog about this on the road safety blog We recently had a near fatal accident in South Africa when pedestrians tried their luck in crossing before an approaching train! We have since decided to make more information available about level crossings!!


    February 16, 2009 at 1:14 am

  10. Andrea C. – I think there used to be a plan to divert traffic to Malkin Ave. from the viaducts then onwards to one of Clark Drive, First Ave. (or the defunct Granview Cut roadway) – but that was viewed by many to be “freeway-like”. The main obstacle to doing so would be the Lee Kiu food company’s warehouse that sits just south of Prior St. just east of the viaducts, which would have to be expropriated.
    I think that what may be planned is for Malkin to become the arterial road and the Malkin Overpass to have a ‘T’ junction with Clark Drive, so that traffic can continue to disperse either north or south on Clark Drive. You can see the allignments in the pic linked below – Malkin basically separates the residential areas from the industrial areas and would keep the residential area intact.

    Ron C.

    February 16, 2009 at 12:15 pm

  11. Thank you Stephen for this excellent blog!

    Also, thank you very much to Red Frog to Ron C. for your thoughtful replies. You are a veritable information clearing house.

    I was able to pass your viewpoints onto some worried neighbours. It’s always better to examine a proposed change with some facts instead of confusion and fear.

    You’ve managed to calm me down somewhat – but those folks in the heritage homes on Malkin Ave between Heatley and Jackson – that might be a different story. They’re small in number, but feisty.

    Andrea C.

    February 16, 2009 at 8:18 pm

  12. Andrea C. Thanks for your kinds words. It would be nice if private cars weren’t allowed downtown but this will not happen, even if we had a great public transit system, as a transit system needs a high density of population to make it viable. Many towns around the world do have car-free areas everyday-all year long–but it is only a small part of the town that is car free (except for Venice and other unusual places). Here in Vancouver we have neither a great transit system neither a great roadway system (how many biggish towns have a 3 lanes bridge on a major waterway??) I will end up my postings on this item with a funny story: I studied basic civil engineering in college–in France. One student used to buy Michelin maps and draw freeways between towns “for fun” not even knowing or caring about who lived on the site of his proposed freeway, if there were important historical buildings etc. I ran into him 20 years later. He was working for the National Road and bridge department AND was fighting a proposed freeway a few block from his home!!

    Red frog

    February 16, 2009 at 11:03 pm

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