The city will have to wait at least a year to implement railway safety measures.
The city applied for funding under the federal government’s railway safety improvement program, but all three of St. Albert’s projects were rejected for the first round of funding.
St. Albert is seeking to upgrade the crossings at Riel and Meadowview drives, as well as install fencing along the tracks to prevent trespassing.
The proactive safety improvements are tied into the coming into force of a whistle cessation bylaw – an initiative championed by Coun. Wes Brodhead. On Sept. 19, 2016 council approved the Whistle Cessation Bylaw, which would regulate how trains can use their whistles within city limits. Before the bylaw can take effect, the city must undertake certain safety improvements.
The measures must also be implemented by St. Albert and CN Rail by November 2021 to comply with updated grade crossing standards set out by Transport Canada. The city has $688,145 in approved budgets to address the new standards.
St. Albert has completed safety improvements (crossing arms, warning lights and warning systems) at five rail crossings – McKenney Avenue, Meadowview Drive, Riel Drive, Levasseur Road and LeClair Way – but two access points need to be redesigned.
“If a vehicle was turning left and yielding to oncoming traffic it could cause queuing off the intersections of Sir Winston Churchill Drive and Riel Drive to back on to the tracks. We want to eliminate that potential,” said city transportation manager Dean Schick.
This work was planned to begin in 2017, with construction taking place 2018, but the absence of federal contributions will put the crossing improvements off by at least a year, said Schick.
The city will begin work on the most pressing project – the protection of the corridor – without a federal contribution. The city is looking to put up a fence or natural barrier to mitigate and eliminate trespassing on the tracks.
The city will begin survey work in house, but geotechnical investigations will need to be contracted out.
All three projects will be re-evaluated under the 2018-19 cycle. Schick inquired about the projects’ rankings, but was not given a direct answer by Transport Canada.
“If in 2017 they manage to finish off a large portion of certain priority-level projects, than the hope would be that ours might be that next level of priority,” said Schick.
The number of applications exceeded the funding set aside by Transport Canada for the 2017-18 cycle ($20 million for 131 projects) and St. Albert’s projects were deemed lower priority compared to other applications, said Schick.
The new federal railway safety improvement program sets aside $55 million in funding over three years to improve rail safety and reduce the number of injuries and fatalities associated with Canada’s rail systems. The program contributes up to 50 per cent of the cost of a crossing improvement project, up to a maximum contribution of $550,000 for a single project.
Since 2000, there have been more than 3,524 accidents in Canada at street-level crossings, with close to 30 per cent of accidents resulting in death or serious injury.
While St. Albert has not yet experienced any fatalities, there was a collision between a train and a vehicle earlier this year on the rail crossing at Boudreau and Veness Road.