Prairie farm groups want deadline extended on private rail crossing upgrades

Farmers also don’t want to foot the bill for upgrades and crossing maintenance

Private grade railway crossings must be upgraded to make them safer by Nov. 28, 2021, but Prairie farm groups want the federal government to extend the deadline.

The groups also oppose farmers having to pay for the upgrades and ongoing maintenance.

“It has traditionally been the responsibility of the railways to maintain and upgrade the rail network, including grade crossings as part of Canada’s heritage and settlement of the west,” Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), Agricultural Producers of Saskatchewan (APAS), and Alberta Federation of Agriculture (AFA), said in a joint release last month.

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To ensure compliance with the new regulations implemented in 2014, the railways have to locate all crossing owners and enter into agreements with them.

Owners, including farmers, may need to perform the upgrades and cover that cost plus ongoing maintenance, or pay the railways to do it.

“A year seems like a long way away, but the railways have let six years lapse before starting to take action,” KAP president Bill Campbell said in the release. “In Manitoba alone, CN has 735 public crossings and 215 private crossings along with 51 road authorities. CP has an even larger network in the province and only started contacting farmers with private rail crossings in March 2020.”

Public crossings are subject to the same regulations.

The railways will eventually close crossings that fail to comply with the new federal regulations, the news release says (see at bottom).

Why it matters: Farmers with private railway crossings use them to access their land intersected by railway tracks, but could lose them if they aren’t upgraded, making it inconvenient and costly to access their own land.

Todd Lewis.
photo: Allan Dawson

“Many farmers cross rail lines on a daily basis to get to their homes or fields and they understand the need for safe crossings,” APAS president Todd Lewis said. “Their lives and livelihoods depend on it. But we believe that safe rail crossings should be maintained without affecting a farmer’s access to their land and without costs to farmers.”

AFA president Lynn Jacobson said that CP Rail has started to contact farmers in southern Alberta as well.

“From the bills that we have seen so far, farmers could be expected to pay tens of thousands of dollars depending on the work that has to be done,” Jacobson said. “That work and extra cost, especially during a pandemic, creates additional uncertainty and pressure with a looming deadline.”

There’s a lot of uncertainty about the upgrading of private railway crossings, Campbell told KAP members attending a general session during KAP’s online district meetings Nov. 24.

The issue has been raised with Transport Minister Marc Garneau and Dan Mazier, MP for Dauphin-Swan River-Neepawa, he told the meeting.

Campbell also asked KAP members with railway crossings on their land to share letters they get from the railways with KAP’s office.

Foxwarren farmer George Graham told the meeting about one farmer who faced a $70,000 bill from a railway after it cleared trees to provide better visibility at his railway crossing. In the end the railway waived the bill, Graham said.

“This is a difficult file because it’s almost like they (railways) are challenging individuals one at a time as opposed to dealing with it in its entirety,” Campbell said. “Our later conversations with them are still not real clear on the steps.”

Niverville farmer and chair of KAP’s transportation committee Kevin Stott said it was his impression after a Transport Canada official met with the committee all a landowner had to do was put up a stop sign in front of their private crossing.

But Minnedosa farmer Neil Galbraith said Transport Canada’s website says private crossings are a shared responsibility between landowners and the railways and that the department would act as mediator between the two.

“Representing farmers I think we need to be united and bring forward and lobby and ensure that farmers are treated equally in this process and that Transport Canada doesn’t put an onerous burden on agriculture,” Campbell said in response. “I don’t think we have been part of that consultation and dialogue until these letters (from railways to landowners) were sent out (in the spring).”


Rail association’s information about private crossing upgrades

When it comes to upgrading and maintaining private railway crossings the responsibility can be the landowners, the railways or shared by both, according to the Railway Association of Canada’s website.

“Each situation is unique,” the site says. “The parties will work together to determine apportionment of costs for compliance. Any crossings requiring upgrades will become part of an action plan to meet the terms of the new regulations by November 2021.

The regulations do not determine responsibility for costs, the site says.

As a private authority, you must make sure that your private grade crossing(s) meet the requirements of the regulations for which you are responsible. These include:

  • Maintain a road approach outside of the railway right-of-way. Contact the railway to find out where railway property ends and yours begins.
  • Install and maintain traffic control devices, like a stop sign, on your land, if it isn’t on the same post as the railway crossing sign, also known as crossbuck.
  • Maintain sightlines on your land, up to the railway right-of-way, including clearing it of any obstructions (i.e. trees, brush, stored materials, equipment).
  • Note that any work on or near active railway lines is subject to the safety procedures of the railway company. To ensure your safety, you must contact the railway company before doing any work near railway property.

These are the responsibilities of the railway that owns tracks crossing a private road. Where applicable, railways must install and maintain the following:

  • A railway crossing sign.
  • A number of track signs and an emergency notification sign.
  • Maintain the stop sign if it’s installed on the same post as the railway crossing sign.
  • Install and maintain a warning system.
  • Install and maintain a crossing surface and a road approach within the railway right-of-way.
  • Choosing design speed and the design vehicle for the private crossing.
  • Maintain sightlines, including removing any trees or brush within the railway right-of-way over land next to the railway right-of-way, other than sightlines over land owned by a private crossing owner.

“It is important to note that responsibilities described above do not determine responsibility for costs,” the site says.

“Costs may be determined based on existing agreements between… the private authority and railway company. Costs could also be determined based on existing orders from the Canadian Transportation Agency https://www.otc-cta.gc.ca/eng/contact-us… dating from when the grade crossing was first authorized or reconstructed.”

The federal government has made funding available to help with this work through the infrastructure, technology and research component of the Rail Safety Improvement Program, but the deadline to apply was Aug. 1, 2020, the site says.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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