Stephen Rees's blog

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

Archive for July 2013

CN to remove staff from Second Narrows rail bridge

leave a comment »

The Burnaby News Leader reports on Burnaby Council worrying about safety on swing/lift bridges

A plan by CN Rail to monitor and operate the Second Narrows rail bridge remotely from New Westminster isn’t sitting too well with Burnaby council.

Recent media reports have stated CN plans to eliminate the three staff at each of the Second Narrows and Lulu Island rail bridges and centralize their lifting and lowering at its New Westminster bridge.

Actually that is the first I had heard about that but then I have been away for a couple of weeks, and this would, I am sure, have caught my interest. As you may know up until recently I was occasionally employed as a swing bridge operator. Not by CN, and not, I might add, at anything like the rate CN pays

The nine people working on the three bridges each earn a gross income of $52,000 a year, he said.

Each of the three bridges mentioned are open all the time unless a train wants to use it. Then the operator announces (over the FM radio channel that controls marine traffic) that the bridge is closing.  The bridge operator is located in a cabin over the tracks, so has a good view of railway operation, but much less of what is happening on the water. These days it is possible to track ship and other marine traffic on the internet and here is a quick glimpse on what is going on in the Burrard Inlet as I write this.

Screen Shot 2013-07-25 at 4.23.17 PM

Marine Traffic is managed by two way radio by the Coast Guard and they rely on a radar plot very similar to this one. In fact, for the Fraser River, the traffic controllers are actually sitting in Victoria.

It seems the Councillors do not actually understand very much about railways or marine traffic, let alone swing bridges.

“What is CN thinking in eliminating the human factor in the rail bridge over Second Narrows?”

Well, actually they are not eliminating it. Although if that were possible it might well be much safer. For instance, the only time there has been a collision on SkyTrain – normally operated by computers – is when a train has been under manual control. It is the human factor that is most often cited in accident reports. The recent Spanish rail tragedy for instance, the Lac Megantic incident or the crash of a Korean airliner or the “Queen of the North“. Google is convinced that driverless cars are going to be much safer than what we have now, and I am prepared to believe them. Computers do not get drunk, or indulge in road rage.

What CN is proposing is to close the bridge to marine traffic remotely. That does not eliminate the human factor at all, it simply relocates it. From my experience I would say that the New Westminster Bridge operator is already the busiest on the river. It carries trains from CN, BNSF and SRY. There is not much ship traffic in that stretch of the river these days, but considerable numbers of tugs and barges, many of which have considerable air draft requirements – scrap barges are the biggest, but also woodchip barges and paper barges. About the only ones that slip through when the bridge is closed are log tows. If you listen to Channel 74 you will hear more calls to the “Westminister Bridge (sic)” than any other. And you will also hear the bridge operator asking the tug captains to let him know when they are through. He cannot see them from where he is sitting.

So will a remote operator be at any great disadvantage if he (or she) is not actually on the bridge? Frankly, I doubt it. In fact, given the working conditions of a swing bridge cabin, the operator will probably be better off. Not the ones who lose their jobs, of course. But, as with lighthouse keepers, there is a lot more emotional attachment to the occupation than genuine need to be concerned about their elimination.

Second Narrows bridges Vancouver BC 2006_0217

Written by Stephen Rees

July 25, 2013 at 5:02 pm

“There’s no ethical case for mandatory cycle helmets”

with 2 comments

The Guardian Bike Blog 

This analysis by an ethicist of the evidence for bike helmet legislation would be worth reading in any event. But over the weekend there was a contentious – if not actually mendacious – opinion piece in the Sun taking the opposite view and supporting it by very selective references to long refuted “evidence”. I am not linking to that. If you want to search and pay for someone else’s opinion that’s your privilege. Though I do wonder why there seems to be an anti-cycle policy at PNG.

But I do think it is worth quoting the banner

“Helmets do not provide sufficient protection to warrant the claim that they are highly effective – and the right to cycle bare-headed is by no means trivial”

I do wear a helmet, simply because I do not wish to get a ticket. Note too that in Vancouver, the local bylaw applies to parks and bike paths that are not subject to the Motor Vehicle Act. I have had a bike crash – actually with another cyclist, on a bike path. I came off, broke my wrist and the helmet made absolutely no difference.


Written by Stephen Rees

July 9, 2013 at 8:48 am

Transit investments lead to healthier people

with 6 comments

A Media Release from UBC with a link to the whole research paper – actually hosted by Translink – and dated August 20 last year

No surprises here – but useful back up to the argument that we ought to spend more on transit. Not that I expect that to influence people like Jon Ferry, [The Province, paywalled]  who is pretending to be open minded!


A new report from the University of British Columbia shows that transportation and health are closely linked and recommends that health outcome be considered in transportation planning.

The report, funded by TransLink and Vancouver Coastal Health Authority as part of updates to Transport 2040, the regional transportation strategy, presents a range of opportunities for Translink to incorporate health into its planning.

“This report documents how prioritizing transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure will positively impact health,” says the study’s lead author Lawrence Frank, Professor and Director of the Health and Community Design Lab, part of UBC’s School of Population and Public Health. “It looks at encouraging active transportation, such as walking, cycling and transit, and reducing air pollution and traffic collision risk.”

Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse

Dr. Lawrence Frank. Photo: Amanda Skuse

Previous research by Frank has shown that every hour a person spends in a car each day makes them six per cent more likely to be obese, while each additional kilometre a person walks makes them five per cent less likely to be obese.

Sedentary lifestyle is a major cause of many chronic diseases such as obesity, heart disease and some cancers. Many chronic diseases are preventable and active transportation and other sustainable transportation choices offer the possibility of prevention and even treatment through increased physical activity. The costs of these diseases are projected to increse by more than $1.5 billion in B.C. over the next 2 to 3 years.

“TransLink’s consideration of the health impacts of transportation systems could help offset the rising costs of health care in the Vancouver area and promote an active lifestyle that will benefit all Canadians,” Frank adds.

The full report is available at here.

Canada Line

Written by Stephen Rees

July 5, 2013 at 10:19 am

Posted in cycling, health, transit, walking

Tagged with