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Village of Pemberton seeks compromise on CN railroad bridge use

Mayor Mike Richman says use of popular crossing is poised to grow
Blockage Village of Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman is hoping to strike a compromise with CN Rail on usage of its railroad bridge. Photo by Joel Barde

For years, Pemberton mountain bikers and hikers have used the railroad bridge over the Lillooet River as a handy shortcut to get between the Village of Pemberton and the community's trail system.

The bridge features a narrow walkway, but walking on it without permission is considered trespassing. In the past, the Canadian National Railway (CN), which operates the railroad, has fined people and dug up the trails leading to the bridge.

But according to Janet Naylor, who lives beside the bridge, the company hasn't taken such actions for years.

Naylor was therefore upset to learn that CN recently used its "big machines" to once again dig up the trails leading to the bridge.

CN is effectively making crossing the bridge even more dangerous, as the action forces people to get onto the track further away from the actual crossing, she said.

Like others, Naylor wants to see a deal struck that will allow pedestrians to cross the bridge. On a busy weekend, she and her husband counted 500 trips across the bridge. "We see people with kids going over," she said.

Naylor recently sent letters to Jordan Sturdy, MLA for West Vancouver-Sea to Sky, and Pamela Goldsmith-Jones, MP for West Vancouver-Sunshine Coast-Sea to Sky Country, as well as Village of Pemberton council.

"(Mountain) Bikers are not going to quit using the crossing," she wrote. "They may ride their bikes all the way down the tracks from town ... if they can't access the bridge easily," wrote Naylor.

Recently, Pemberton Mayor Mike Richman toured Pique around the area.

The holes that were dug by CN had already been filled with the gravel and the trees and brush had been largely removed—presumably by trail users. Large rocks, put there by CN, remained.

Richman said he is hoping to come to a resolution with CN. He said the punitive approach hasn't worked, and he fears that traffic is only going to get worse going forward.

The Village's recreational lands, as well as a proposed major housing development are on the far side of the railroad bridge, off Pemberton Farm Road East.

"I can only see increased traffic across the train tracks," said Richman, adding that he and staff have met with CN officials several times and fully recognize the liability issue.

"We have had some very positive conversations with CN. I totally recognize that for them, they've got thousands of communities like ours."

In a recent meeting, Richman and Village staff walked CN officials across the bridge, giving them a first-hand look at the predicament, said Richman.

"I said look, 'I get your situation, but I think this is a problem that we share,' he said.

"This isn't just Pemberton—it's a CN problem as well. There is a safety issue here.

"Digging it up and blocking it is not the solution."

Richman said that he has suggested making the walkway wider, or having CN contribute to a pedestrian bridge, as possible solutions. He said coming to an agreement is a Village priority.

"We're active on it, and we're going to continue to work with staff and CN ... I'm going to continue to call meetings and make sure that they understand that this is a real issue and a real safety problem," said Richman.

In a statement, CN said the bridge is an active railway bridge that is not open for public use for any reason or activity.

"Trespassing on CN tracks or other infrastructure, including the bridge over the Lillooet River, is not only illegal and subject to fine, but also extremely dangerous," said the statement.

Adrian Bolden, director of the Pemberton Off Road Cycling Association, said in an email that there is "a mutual benefit to both CN and the Village to resolve the CN rail bridge issue and other track crossings.

"The upcoming Trails Master Plan has provisions to re-route trail exits such as Indy 500, BSF and Cream Puff that end on the tracks, so trail crossings will be resolved in the future."

Said the Pemberton Valley Trails Association in an emailed statement: "There has been renewed interest in the community to try to get it solved but planning for any action is in the very early stages and there is nothing substantive to report on the issue at this time."

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