Feds insist farmers’ road access safe under new rules

Transport Canada urges landowners to contact railways if they have not yet been notified about their private crossings

Could private crossings on rail lines be shut down if farmers fail to meet new federal safety rules, cutting them off from fields, and even their homes in some cases?

A Transport Canada adviser says no, but questions about maintenance and upgrade costs linger.

“No one will lose access to their fields or homes as a result of these regulations,” Frederica Dupuis, a senior adviser for media relations with Transport Canada, said in an email.

The federal government’s goal is to minimize accidents at grade crossings, she said, describing the problem as a serious safety issue “representing approximately one-third of fatalities and half of all serious injuries from railway accidents.”

New federal regulations affecting federally regulated rail line crossings came into force in 2014, but Transport Canada phased in the implementation over seven years. The federal department is now reviewing the compliance deadline of Nov. 27, 2021, after receiving input from groups such as farmers and municipalities asking for an extension, said Dupuis.

Safety is a vital issue for farmers because they are the primary users of their private crossings, said Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.

“We don’t want to see these crossings fall into disrepair,” he said.

Bill Campbell, president of Keystone Agricultural Producers of Manitoba, said in an Aug. 25 letter to Transport Minister Marc Garneau that railways should continue to pay for upgrades and maintenance, as has been done on federally regulated private grade crossings in the past.

Farmers fear that if they cannot afford safety upgrades and maintenance costs for private crossings under the new regulations, they risk losing access to their property by having the crossings removed or closed, Lewis said. It is unclear how much it will actually cost farmers to meet the new rules, he said.

Transport Canada said in a statement if private crossing owners haven’t yet received notification from railway companies, it is important they contact them to verify factors such as the road speed at the crossing “as these values might have an impact on what upgrades may be required to bring the crossing into compliance.

“Depending on the agreement the private landowner has with the railway company, or the one filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, the cost might be shared between the road authority/private road owner and the railway. Generally, this information is outlined in the agreement.”

The agency helps determine “as necessary” who is financially responsible for the construction and maintenance costs of crossings, said the statement, adding it may also help public road authorities and private landowners to negotiate and put into place agreements with railway companies.

The federal Rail Safety Improvement Program also provides funding to improve crossing safety, said the statement. Private crossing owners may be “eligible for up to 80 percent of total eligible expenditures” on things such as signs, crossing protection and infrastructure improvements, it said.

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