Trucks drive along the future site of a rail line near Tin Can Beach

A truck drives along the future site of a rail line near Tin Can Beach (Connell Smith/CBC)

People in Saint John's central peninsula are about to lose their main access to Tin Can Beach.

The stretch of shoreline on the south end waterfront has long been an area open for dog-walking and exploring.  However, CN Rail is putting in a new track between the potash terminal and the former sugar refinery property.

When the line becomes operational, the public will not be allowed to cross the train track, said Jim Feeny, Director of Public and Government Affairs for CN.

"There will be rail cars that will be moving on it, and it will not be a place where we will allow people to walk on the track or over the track."

"Rail tracks are not places where people should be. It is private property first and foremost," said Feeny. 

“Secondly it is very, very dangerous to be around tracks — a live track — where rail cars are moving back and forth. So it's a question of safety and property."

Feeny says the new line replaces an old railway track that had been partially removed.  It had been out of service for well over a decade.

Besides the track, the only potential access point to the beach is through the city-owned former Lantic Sugar refinery property, which is officially closed.

Bad timing

The timing of this restriction couldn't be worse for University of New Brunswick Saint John politics Professor Hepzibah Muñoz-Martinez. She is working with a group of students just now completing a study on the potential to revitalize Tin Can Beach as a public space.

'It's a great area to see how the tide changes, [andto see what's underneath the rocks when the tide goes down. ' - Hepzibah Muñoz-Martinez

Muñoz-Martinez said she’s lived in different cities in Canada, and all of them happened to have direct access to water. 

“I realized the areas that were closer to water were very vibrant neighbourhoods, that allowed not only for lots of economic development, but also for some sort of public space for the community to interact with each other,” she said.

She said the beach provides some variety of public space for business people and residents of the inner-city, who may not have access to cars.

"It's a great area to see how the tide changes, [andto see what's underneath in the rocks when the tide goes down," said Muñoz-Martinez.

"Also, it's the best unobstructed view of Partridge Island."

Fourth-year UNBSJ student Adam Smith has canvassed people in the south end of Saint John, to find out how they feel about Tin Can Beach, and its potential as a public space.

“People use the area already — whether it be teenagers going down to have a bonfire on a summer night, people just going down to see Partridge Island, or just looking at the different marine life down there. It’s a huge space, and there’s no reason you couldn’t do multiple things with the area,” said Smith.

“You realize the impact [beach revitalization] could actually have on a community, especially a community like the south end where it’s a priority neighbourhood, Smith said.

“We could make a space that people from the east side, the west side, the north end, want to go to [in] the south end.  We could see the community really start to evolve, and hopefully, investors come in.”

Late Monday morning, on Twitter, Saint John mayor Mel Norton said this is the first he's heard about a restriction on access to Tin Can Beach. Norton said quality of life and industry are not mutually exclusive, and he planned to look into the issue.