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'Train Wreck' access under review

CN police ticket pedestrians on Whistler train tracks south of Function Junction
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Busted Hikers around the popular Train Wreck site were ticketed by CN Rail police last week for trespassing on the tracks. The hike was advertised online on several tourist websites.

Tourism Whistler has removed an online profile recommending the Train Wreck site, and the trails leading to it, after learning that CN Police were ticketing people using the rail lines to access the area.

"Our 'Insider' blog is designed to give visitors local's tips," said Louise Walker, vice president of marketing strategy of Tourism Whistler.

"But in light of recent information we pulled the blog... and we are going to investigate if there are alternative access points to get (to Train Wreck).

"It would be a real shame (to decommission the area), because obviously Chili Thom's art work is there, but it will be interesting to see how else we can get to it — that will definitely be the best route to address the issue."

Walker is also hoping that anyone who was ticketed last week will contact Tourism Whistler.

"We would love to connect with the visitors who received the tickets," she said. "We don't want our visitors leaving, having had a bad experience."

Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said she was aware of the issue of people using the tracks to get to the site, as well as enjoying the surrounding trails on foot and by bike. The trails are not authorized and are on Crown land.

"We recognize that it has been a very popular trail," she said.

"I personally hear from people about the crossing-the-train-tracks issue to get to this site — I have heard from several people about this. We don't have it marked as a trail on our Whistler hiking and biking map just because there are issues with CN."

Wilhelm-Morden said the Recreation and Leisure Master Plan group will likely look at the issue as part of its mandate.

"...It may be that a dialogue will result from that work that is being done on that plan," she said adding the report will come to council in July.

"...Hopefully if they look at the Train Wreck site there may be some recommendations about how to start talking to CN about doing something.

"There are ways to deal with CN so let's see the master plan process work its way through and then hopefully we can start a dialogue. It is a very popular site."

In the late 1950s a freight train, believed to be southbound, derailed near the banks of the Cheakamus River just past Function Junction.

Wrecks were not a rare occurrence in Whistler in those times and as it was time-consuming and expensive to remove the derailed boxcars they were just abandoned where they lay. Over the years the boxcars have been painted by artists such as Chili Tom and graffiti designer Kris Kupskay. Now the boxcars explode with colour and are a popular destination on foot and by bike for locals and visitors alike.

The hike in to see the cars is recommended on many websites including TripAdvisor and until Friday it was on Tourism Whistler's Insider Blog.

But you can't get to the area without walking along the tracks at some point, or at least crossing them — both illegal acts of trespass and in violation of the Railway Safety Act.

On March 28 a group of visitors to Whistler were very surprised to find themselves getting a $115 ticket after returning from a hike to Train Wreck.

"We found the trail because it was advertised," said one of the party, who asked not to be identified. "We wanted to check it out, but then we were pulled over and ticketed. We were very surprised, but then we do know it is wrong to walk on the tracks... we were a little misled by the website."

But it wasn't just Train Wreck visitors who were ticketed. A Function Junction businessman plans to fight the $115 ticket he received for walking his dogs along the CN railways tracks.

And Boyd Schomaker is calling on CN to put up better warning signs to tell pedestrians who use the track as a trail that it is illegal to do so.

"I decided to walk the dogs along the railway tracks — a lot of people do the track — and as I'm walking I noticed... a CN Rail officer and he motioned me over and he was going to charge me with walking on the railway tracks," said Schomaker.

"I said to him that this has been an ongoing situation. I have been coming up to Whistler for something like 30 years; I have run a business here for the last 12 years and it is a constant traffic of people walking the tracks with their snowshoes on, or riding their bikes, or walking.

"I said, 'I will see you in court.'"

Part of the problem, confirmed Schomaker, is that people use the tracks to access Train Wreck.

"When CN bought out BC Rail they should have cleaned out that wreck and by allowing the wreck to exist they are asking people to take this walk," said Schomaker, adding that while there are signs warning people not to walk along the tracks they are not at the popular entrances in the Function area. That's something he wants changed.

"There should be proper signage," he said. "CN should remove the train wreck because by leaving it there they are encouraging access to it. But we have 10 to 20 years of common knowledge about this walk to the Train Wreck. How do you stop this pattern? I always say to myself 'I should take that walk or go there on my bike and do that.' Not any more."

CN began ticketing pedestrians using the railway tracks in Whistler after its police became concerned about how many people use the tracks, especially in Function Junction, as a trail.

"It is not only dangerous it is illegal to be trespassing on railway property," said Warren Chandler, senior manager for public affairs with CN.

"Our police force takes that matter very seriously and tries to use education first, but enforcement is also a tool at their disposal to ensure that people are safe and stay away from railway property."

On Feb. 10 a young man was hit and killed by a train in Coquitlam while he was walking along the tracks. Trains travelling approximately 50 kilometres an hour take about one kilometre to come to a stop.

Chandler said he was unaware of the draw of the Train Wreck area.

"I am not familiar with Train Wreck and perhaps that would be something that CN could engage with the local community about to have that discussion surrounding the needs for safety," he said.

"We would need to be approached by somebody because it is an unofficial tourist stop."

Asked if CN is considering removing the box cars of the train wreck so that it is not a destination for visitors who must use the track to get there, Chandler said: "That might be a potential option so we would have to take that under advisement and look into that situation."