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Trains, noise and condominiums

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 comedy movie starring Steve Martin and Canadian John Candy, comes to mind when I think of trains, noise and condominiums at New Westminster's Quayside neighbourhood.

Planes, Trains and Automobiles, the 1987 comedy movie starring Steve Martin and Canadian John Candy, comes to mind when I think of trains, noise and condominiums at New Westminster's Quayside neighbourhood.

Ever since moving here with my husband in April 2008, this journalist has been reading newspaper articles and letters concerning trains here at the Quay.

Trains move at night because railroads are a 24-7 operation. I know this because my grandfather, uncles and father all worked for the same railroad - the Northern Pacific (now BNSF) as railroad engineers. What this railroad association has done has given me an understanding - a foundation if you will - coupled with a journalist's eye about railroads and the issues that surround them.

No, I have never worked for a railroad. Nor am I a "front" for these railroads which operate during the night in the Quayside neighbourhood, squeezed between the Fraser River and Stewardson Way/Columbia Street.

I suspect - and maybe the local press should check into this - that the trains move about at night at the Quay rail yard and across the Fraser River bridge because during the day the bridge has to be open for the river traffic that ply up and down the Fraser River.

For years now, a number of residents at the Quay have raised objections about trains and their nighttime activity. Especially those who bought condos right across from the rail yard or along the narrow strip of land where a railroad bridge juts out across the Fraser River to the Queensborough neighbourhood. It is from Queensborough that thousands of imported vehicles from ocean-going vessels are loaded onto trains and brought into Vancouver and other destinations throughout B.C. and Canada.

When a barge struck and decommissioned this same bridge earlier this year, residents near the bridge and tracks said how nice it was to sleep at night. In another press article, around 30 businesses from autos, forest and industrial products were adversely affected by this bridge being closed.

Moving commerce to market as well as an unknown number of jobs - not to mention taxes for our community and schools - directly and indirectly comes from BNSF, Canadian National, and Southern Railway of B.C. Here at the Quay the quantitative versus qualitative argument is at play: residents directly affected by train noise (never quantified) versus those who want a quiet night (again, never quantified).

None of us, regardless of a petition drive held earlier this year by the anti-noise advocates - one of a thousand similar groups across North America fighting noise in our communities

- knows the true sentiment of the majority of the Quayside residents on this issue.

"Ne'er a complaint," says Jody Heinhorst, Rialto Court strata president, making a zero sign with her thumb and index finger. In a followup email, she wrote: "The trains were here first. I do not recall a train noise issue with our building. I could also add it has never been an agenda item at one of our strata meetings."

The Rialto residents, like many other condo residents south of Quayside Drive facing the river, aren't bothered by the train noise. Or accept it as part of living by a working river. We knew this before we bought.

Including the choice of not to buy across from or next to train tracks.

However, anyone questioning the motives of this NIMBY (not in my back yard) anti-noise group - even though the railroads have been in New Westminster since the 1880s - have been labelled either as a tool of the railroads, a fool or both. It's an old debate tactic used by politicians: Question the motives of your opponents.

Approximately 5,000 of New West's 50,000 residents live at the Quay. What do the other 45,000 residents of our city feel about this issue?

I met a couple walking their dog at the Quay who live in another neighbourhood. Curious about their views, I asked them. "The railroads were here first," answered the man. They told me when they were looking to buy a condo four years ago, they visited the Quay. They couldn't have missed the trains and train tracks because they had to drive over the tracks to get to the Quay. In the end, this couple bought elsewhere in the city.

This writer has no vested interest in seeing the railroad trains or tracks stay or leave. Nor is it my intent now or in the future to run for political office over this issue. But it seems whatever happens regarding the case of railroad noise here at the Quay, currently before a Federal Court of Appeals, life will go on. If the anti-noise group does succeed in limiting the trains/train noise, one of its the leaders was quoted saying that trucks on Front Street/Stewardson Way is next on their agenda.

Frankly, I am surprised this has not been raised: If this anti-noise group does succeed in limiting the railroads business, the railroads could decide to up and leave New Westminster and set up a rail yard elsewhere. Who do you think is going to make up the lost property tax revenue - undoubtedly into the millions - if this happens? The rest of us, that's who. Brought to you by the anti-noise group.

Scott W. Larsen is a Quayside resident.