Canadian Rail Operating rules state delays shouldn’t be more than five minutes but in Saskatoon drivers are running into waits up to 55 minutes because of trains, notably from Canadian National Railway Company (CN).
Members of the Rail Working Committee spoke at council’s transportation committee meeting on Monday about steps they are taking to resolve the rail-delay issue in Saskatoon.
“When you have these meetings with CN and Canadian Pacific (CP), they seem to be going along well that we need to do something. We leave the meeting and nothing happens,” committee member and former Saskatoon Fire Chief Dan Paulsen said. “What we’ve had is a relatively strong disconnect between operations and administration within, in particular, CN.”
Paulsen retired this summer but stayed on to help the committee find solutions to the delays which have had distinctly large impact on the Montgomery neighbourhood. Paulsen said the talks were set back as the committee worked through a “cat and mouse game” with the province and Transport Canada about who has the jurisdiction over the line.
“We now have it formally written from the province that it’s federal jurisdiction. They have asked, in the continuum of federal mandate, that we have mediation or discussions prior to it going to the federal level but we are still working on getting information back to the feds as well,” Paulsen explained.
Canadian Rail Operating rules explain that “no part of a movement may be allowed to stand on any part of a public crossing at grade, for a longer period than five minutes, when vehicular or pedestrian traffic requires passage. Switching operations at such crossing must not obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic for a longer period than five minutes at a time. When emergency vehicles require passage, employees must cooperate to quickly clear the involved crossings.” But at 11th Street West there have been delays in excess of 55 minutes and on average it’s not uncommon to pass the five minute rule in the regulations, according to the City.
“Since the start of 2013, we have had 71 incidents that were delayed by rail,” fire chief Morgan Hackl said.
In the Montgomery area, Hackl explained they send an extra apparatus along a different route to structure fires “because of our concerns.”
Councillor Pat Lorje deals with both rail companies in her ward and said CP has become a friendly partner and “the problem is CN.”
“Senior management of CN appear to be quite cooperative but at the local level the yard master continues to insist that he is going to send 100 car trains to Viterra to load when the trackage on that short line can only accommodate 30 cars,” Lorje said.
“Why is he wasting the diesel fuel and creating the inconvenience to the residents? It seems they consider all the trackage in the area to be their personal parking lot, that simply has to stop. The city tries to be a good neighbour to the rail companies and it’s time the rail companies stepped up and were good neighbours to the city.”
When asked about possible fines, Paulsen said “first off is the request to go to mediation and discussion, which is happening.” He added that later, based on Transport Canada’s violations of the Canadian Rail Operating rules, CN could face fines between $5,000 and $100,000.
The committee is collecting data and information if they need intervention from Ottawa. They also recommended reaching out to representatives from both CN and CP to appear at the update scheduled for early next year.