Crossing upgrades mean steep bill for farmers

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Some farmers and rural landowners in Westman could be asked to foot part of the bill for upgrades to private rail grade crossings on their property.

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Some farmers and rural landowners in Westman could be asked to foot part of the bill for upgrades to private rail grade crossings on their property.

Three years ago, Transport Canada updated its Grade Crossing Regulations to include new amendments that apply to all public and private railway crossings in the country. The amendments were put in place to improve safety by bringing sightlines and grade levels into compliance with the new standards.

A private railway crossing is constituted when there is no public use of the crossing and the same individual or farm business owns the land on both sides of the tracks. In the past, the responsibility for the maintenance of these crossings had been the railway’s. Now that all farm crossings are being classified as private crossings, farmers and landowners could be facing bills from rail companies such as Canadian Pacific Railway and Canadian National Railway.

Miranda Leybourne/The Brandon Sun A railway crossing on a farm about five kilometres east of Neepawa.

Farmers are now also required to have a minimum general liability insurance of $5 million for the crossings, along with $2 million in automobile liability insurance. When it’s a CP Rail crossing, they must pay the company an annual crossing fee of $350, which is subject to change with every new annual contract.

Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) president Bill Campbell said in a statement to the Sun that while KAP supports and welcomes the new measures to increase safety at railway crossings, it shouldn’t be the responsibility of farmers to pay for it.

“It is important that these crucial access points are maintained and receive the required upgrades without imposing additional costs onto agricultural producers. As we have noted in the past, KAP believes the maintenance and repairs to grade crossing are the financial responsibility of class 1 railways and not farmers.”

Miranda Leybourne/The Brandon Sun A railway crossing on a farm about five kilometres east of Neepawa.

Campbell said that KAP recommends any farmer who disputes the costs for grade crossing upgrades contact the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), as it is responsible for all disputes relating to federally funded regulated railways.

Jonathan Abecassis, the senior manager of media relations for CN Rail, told the Sun in an email that private grade crossings must comply with the federal government regulations.

“Under the regulations, rail safety is a shared responsibility, as is the maintenance and upkeep of individual crossings,” Abecassis said.

Sau Sau Liu, senior communications adviser with Transport Canada, also replied to enquiries from the Sun via email. Liu said Transport Canada is committed to protecting all Canadians who live and work along rail lines by putting in place the necessary measures to reduce the risk of serious accidents.

Liu noted that Transport Canada amended the new regulations by extending the compliance deadlines in 2021 after hearing from railway companies, road authorities and private landowners.

“These amendments preserve the core safety objectives of the regulations while providing financial relief to public and private authorities during the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring that very low-risk grade crossings are not subject to undue burden.”

The regulatory amendments, Liu said, focus efforts on reducing the risks of preventable accidents at grade crossings while being mindful of economic realities affecting farmers and landowners.

The Brandon Sun reached out to representatives from CP Rail but did not receive a reply by press time.

» mleybourne@brandonsun.com

» Twitter: @miraleybourne

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