A new fence is being erected along the north side of Brandon’s stretch of Canadian Pacific Railway tracks.
The black metal structure with a spiked top is being constructed "to deter trespassing," a written statement by CP read, adding; "Last year, 53 people died in Canada as a result of trespassing on railway rights-of-way, and it’s an issue we take very seriously. We designed the fencing with the aim of deterring trespassing and controlling maintenance costs."
A followup request for local statistics was not responded to by press time on Friday, although The Brandon Sun has been contacted by people who have been ticketed for crossing the tracks illegally. They were handed $220 tickets from Canadian Pacific Police Service members for trespassing, a federal offence under the Rail Safety Act.
Coun. Kris Desjarlais (Rosser) said that he hasn’t received any phone calls about the fence, adding that he believes it is a necessary safety measure.
"They have to protect the liability, and there have been some folks making their way across inappropriately, or illegally, and even getting fined, so it’s good to nip that in the bud," he said.
Area resident Sharon Kemp said that she agrees with this sentiment, and that she considers the fence a necessary safety measure given how unsafe crossing the tracks outside designated crossings can be.
Even so, she said that she understands area residents’ frustration with having to walk up to several blocks west to 18th Street in order to cross the tracks.
She spearheaded a petition in 2015 that called for the city’s elected officials to approve the construction of a new vehicle-friendly bridge to replace the structure they proposed to tear down at Eighth Street.
Despite presenting a petition with more than 2,300 names, her bid was ultimately rejected and the Eighth Street bridge came down without an immediate plan for its replacement.
Although she has stepped back from advocacy in recent months, Kemp said that she has heard from people whose trip across the tracks has been made substantially longer as a result of the bridge’s removal.
There are a number of low-income people living north of the tracks who can’t afford vehicles, she said.
"Nobody’s looking after them."
Even so, she said that coming up with a solution to the community’s newfound sense of isolation is no easy task.
"I wish anybody luck who’s trying to do something positive for anyone who wants a connector between downtown and this side of the tracks," she said.
The city’s elected officials are trying to do just that, and Desjarlais said that engineers have gone back to the drawing board a couple of times as part of ongoing efforts to come up with plans the community might support.
He said that the community would be consulted within the next couple months, during which they’ll have some design options to consider.
As it stands, the tentative plan would include bridge options that are non-vehicular.
"I’m very optimistic that we have some options in front us that are palatable," Desjarlais said.
"We need that bridge, in my opinion, and I think folks will be happy with what’s happening."
» Twitter: @TylerClarkeMB