CN cracks down on 'walking the rails'

Enforcement efforts focus on those accessing Train Wreck site south of Function Junction

Those looking to get to the Train Wreck site south of Whistler will have a much harder time finding the route after CN Rail recently began cracking down on trespassing along its property in and around the resort.

The company has been contacting websites and publications that describe how the route to the Train Wreck requires hikers and mountain bikers to walk along the railway tracks near Function Junction.

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"Trespassing remains the leading cause of rail-related fatalities in Canada and those that are walking along our tracks to reach the Whistler Train Wreck are putting themselves and others at risk of fatalities or injuries," said regional manager of public and government affairs Emily Hamer. "Our police force take that matter very seriously and try to use education first, but enforcement is also a tool at their disposal to make sure that people are safe and that they stay away from railway property."

Under the Railway Safety Act the company has the authority to issue $115 tickets for trespassing on its property and enforce the legislation up to 500 metres off CN land. According to Hamer, the access to the trail that goes to the Train Wreck only came to the company's attention recently, although she said that was not the result of a specific incident where a member of the public on CN land was hurt or injured.

"Really what is important to us is that the public knows trespassing on railway property is extremely dangerous," she said. "At CN when it comes to safety there is no compromise - our police are on site and won't tolerate those that put their lives and others at risk."

While mentioned on websites and travel publications, the trail is not officially sanctioned and does not appear on the Resort Municipality of Whistler's interpretive forest, hiking or biking maps.

Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden said the muni doesn't advertise the trail because of the access and safety issues. However, she said CN has been in contact with administration and there is a possible solution that could be developed from the south of the Train Wreck site sometime in the future.

"We do have the Recreation and Leisure Master Plan process that is underway right now, certainly one of the things they are considering are things like this where we have this valuable asset called the Train Wreck that people like to hike into or bike into and we have the basic problem of trespassing on the railway line to get here," added the mayor. "I am hopeful this planning process will identify opportunities or solutions to this issue."

The train wreck itself dates back to 1957-58 according to Whistler Museum executive director Sarah Drewery. She said not much is known about the actual accident, but it is believed that at the time it was cheaper for the rail line to leave the cars rather than salvage them.

"It appears that it was relatively common for this thing (train derailment) to happen," Drewery said.

It is also thought that the cars were pulled into the woods after the crash, so as not to interfere with the rail company's operations at the time. That means the crash was not violent as some might assume given how far into the trees the train cars be found.

The cultural relevance of the site to the community of Whistler has developed over the years as well, with graffiti by artists like Chili Thom and Kris Kupskay covering it and the old growth tree stand surrounding it.

At least once in Whistler's past, efforts to log the area or remove the train cars was met with fierce resistance in the community, with some going so far as to sabotage the large trees with metal spikes to prevent loggers from coming in with chainsaws.

Drewery said she thinks it is important to preserve the site because of its heritage and cultural value.

"I think it is a cool icon of Whistler and a special place," she said. "I can see CN's point, but there are some obvious solutions like building a new trail that doesn't cross the railway line."

Trails crossing the railway are not a new thing to Whistler, with the Valley Trail intersecting the line in several places and walking along the tracks dates back to the pioneer days of Whistler when it was owned by PGE Railway.

"The train track basically was a footpath back in the pioneer days," Drewery said.

She said people living in Parkhurst, where there was a logging operation and mill, could only come and go by using the track as access. The only other way to get about was the Pemberton Trail, and that was on the other side of Green Lake from the mill.

Local historian Florence Petersen writes about the importance of the railway line for early pedestrian movement in her book First Tracks.

"Before the highway went through the valley in 1965, most of the local residents lived alongside the railway tracks.'Walking the rails' was the easiest way to get to school, to pick up milk or supplies at Rainbow Lodge and to visit friends," she wrote.

Petersen also records the story of Wallace and Jenny Betts, Parkhurst residents with a small child who invented a rail buggy to make the trip easier.

"Ross Barr, manager of Parkhurst mill, was impressed by this crude design and offered to make new wheels on his lathe. This made the ride easier and smoother," wrote Petersen. "It was a little nerve racking though - one had to listen for approaching trains from either direction.Each time a train came along, the buggy, child and supplies had to be hauled off the track.Since no set schedule existed, this could happen at any time."

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