Transport Canada railway fences at White Rock waterfront anger residents

Residents and visitors to White Rock are feeling shut out after Transport Canada ordered the city to gate off the boat launch following two recent deaths on the train tracks.

Popular beach access gated off by Transport Canada after recent deaths on train tracks

White Rock residents and mayor are upset after Transport Canada ordered the City of White Rock to gate off the boat launch and construct additional fencing (CBC)

Residents and visitors to White Rock are feeling shut out after Transport Canada ordered the city to gate off the boat launch — a popular access point for beachcombers, boaters, and stand-up paddle boarders.

"It kind of came out of the blue," says White Rock Mayor Wayne Baldwin. "We were quite literally blindsided by this one."

The city received orders from Transport Canada on June 6, requiring the boat launch to be closed immediately and for trains to blow their horns at intervals from dawn to dusk.

Transport Canada reviewed the railway and waterfront access points after a woman was killed by an Amtrak passenger train in July 2013 while jogging across the track, and an elderly man with dementia died on the tracks this February.

"[The woman's death] was an accident. It was a mistake that she made that was unfortunately fatal," said Baldwin.

"But if it had happened 30 feet north when she was running across the road, Transport Canada wouldn't have been involved, and nothing would have occurred."

"Now that it's a tragic mistake on the tracks, it takes on a whole new dimension."

'We'll just climb over fence'

White Rock residents hop a newly installed fence at the train tracks to get to the beach. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

The gaps in the low fence along West Beach, near the boat launch, were also closed last month by orders from the railway.

That didn’t stop people from getting to the beach by illegally climbing over the tracks — one group of people even clambered over the tracks with a rowboat.

"We just thought, naturally, we'll just climb over," said one beach goer who didn't give her name, but was among those to hop the fence.

"I think it's actually more dangerous now, because you can get caught and fall onto the tracks."

Other visitors to the promenade on Wednesday were surprised and angry to see the two-metre high locked gate.

"This is insanity," said Chalmers Caldwell, who has lived in White Rock for 17 years and regularly uses the point to launch his kayak.

"The beach is what White Rock is all about. This is the soul of White Rock."

Caldwell says the changes mean there is no legal access to the beach between the pier and Coldicutt Ravine on the far western point of the beach.

"Whoever is responsible for this must be simply out of their mind."

'Temporary measure to support safety'

Transport Canada said the two-metre high fence is a temporary measure for safety purposes. (Gavin Fisher/CBC)

Marji Rohla, another resident, says she is disappointed by the change.

"I usually come to the beach once a day and I roll my kayak down from where I live…into this access because they’ve cut all the other ones off," said Rohla.

"Now I have no access at all, so I can’t check my crab traps or get to the water. We’re cut off, no access to beach by the sea."

Transport Canada declined an interview but sent CBC an e-mail statement.

The statement says the city did not take proper measures to address the safety threats that Transport Canada identified when it inspected the railway in February.

The statement also says the measures are not permanent.

"The Orders will be lifted once Transport Canada is satisfied that adequate safety measures are in place to protect pedestrians and drivers in this area. These Orders are a temporary measure to support rail safety," the statement reads.

More fencing will be installed at the far eastern and western points of the beach by the end of the month.

with files from Gavin Fisher.