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PVTA seeks to resolve trail issues

Rail police handing out tickets on well-used sections

Whistler’s Karl Ricker, an avid bird watcher and hiker, decided to join the Pemberton Valley Trails Association in their annual trail clean-up day on April 9. He was running a little late and missed the work groups as they left for trails in the Mosquito Lake area, but hiked out to the area anyway to join a crew.

After walking the area for a while, he spotted a truck and a man on the side of the railway tracks. Thinking that the man might be involved with the PVTA or might know where to find the crews he approached the person to ask for help.

The man turned out to be from the CN Rail police. He promptly ticketed Ricker for trespassing on private property, refusing to answer questions or hear his explanations for being there.

After receiving the ticket, Ricker left the CN Rail policeman who was using his binoculars to scan up and down the rail bed looking for trespassers. After finally finding a work crew, Ricker then discovered that the CN rail police had been active in the area in recent weeks and that several people have been ticketed.

"I was quite taken aback. I walk the train tracks every day, have done for years and years, and this was the first time I had even seen the rail police," said Ricker.

Not only is Ricker an avid birdwatcher and hiker, he is also one of the foremost explorers in the Sea to Sky area, completing several first ascents and traverses. Half the peaks in this part of Garibaldi Park were named by him and his partners after exploring the area in the 1960s.

The ticket was for $115 and Ricker is disputing it on several grounds – including the fact that you have to receive a warning before you can be ticketed for trespassing, and the fact that the rail beds in B.C. are still publicly owned Crown land, leased out to CN Rail for 999 years.

He has learned that others who have been ticketed have been successful in their disputes.

"For me this sets a dangerous precedent. That railway line runs right through the middle of Pemberton, it’s the same line that people cross a thousand times a day in Whistler. Anywhere you go in B.C. there’s railway tracks, and people crossing at all times of the day. You can’t even access some areas in B.C., and we’re talking public land, without crossing the railway tracks," he said.

The Pemberton Valley Trails Association is aware of the issue and is attempting to follow up with CN Rail.

Most of the fines involve the long rail bridge over the Lillooet River that residents use to access the Mosquito Lake recreation area. It’s currently the most convenient way to access that area without driving, other than a trail that comes out in the Pemberton Plateau area three kilometres north of town that also involves a rail crossing.

"We’re trying to deal with CN Rail in a number of ways to try and find a method to make that crossing legal," said PVTA chair Rod MacLeod. "We’ve had meetings and found the cost would be about $400,000 to fix that bridge up and we’ve gone nowhere because of that. Another thing that happened is that when it switched over from B.C. Rail to CN Rail we lost about a year of talks, and then nothing happened in a long time," he said.

"We think it’s a safe bridge the way it is. They have signs up that say don’t use this, and in our mind that passes liability from them to the user – it’s like crossing the rope and skiing out of bounds for most of us, if you do something wrong you’re on your own, but they don’t see it that way.

"They see this train bridge as a different thing than just a crossing, and I guess I have a little sympathy for their point. Our point is that from the middle of the bridge, at the speed trains are going and the fact the horns sound well ahead of time, a person has lots of time to clear the bridge. Many minutes in fact."

There is also a walkway with a railing along one side of the bridge that was built for workers, but has been used by people in Pemberton "for generations without a single problem," said MacLeod.

According to Graham Dallas, a spokesman for CN Rail, the only way to prevent rail accidents is to have a zero tolerance policy for trespassers.

"It’s not that we don’t like people, it’s that we don’t like people on our bridges, our rights of way, anywhere on our property," he said. "About 100 people a year are injured on railway property, and the only way to reduce the risk is to have a zero tolerance policy."

He says CN is aware that local residents are trying to get access to the bridge, and have argued that there is not much rail traffic on the line, "but we have a saying that anytime is train time… a train could come along at any time, and it would be unfortunate if anyone was injured for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

He added that residents who have been ticketed do have the option of disputing the ticket if they choose, but said CN planned to keep enforcing laws against trespassers.

There are not that many trains on an average day, and the trains move slowly through the area because of the track and the proximity to the town. The PVTA says it’s more dangerous from a traffic standpoint, for people to ride on the road.

The PVTA would like to see the bridge walkway opened to the public, or for another walkway to be built alongside the bridge.

They have spoken to the CN Rail Police, and they maintain they are just doing their duty in the area. "We’re interested to find out why they’re enforcing this now when it hasn’t been done for years," MacLeod added.

The PVTA also knows of other bridge crossings where the public is allowed to use the bridge, or where the trespassing is not enforced.

In the meantime, the PVTA is warning members and the community that people using the bridge and rail lines are running the risk of being ticketed.