A regulation change in 2014 requiring updating and potentially upgrading some rail crossings means several Manitoba farmers are on the hook for thousands in work to be done by CP Rail.

A representative for the railway says it’s just enforcing the Grade Crossing Regulations and Grade Crossing Standards set out by Transport Canada nearly six years ago. Transport Canada (TC) determines the safety requirements for railway crossings. Federally-regulated railway companies must meet the new safety requirements, set out in November of 2014, of the Grade Crossing Regulations before November 28, 2021.

Farmers who own property adjacent to, or being serviced by, grade crossings requiring upgrades were surprised to receive letters last month from the railway outlining work that needed to be done, an estimate for costs, and an enclosed agreement that, once signed, would mean farmers would be invoiced for the work.

Bill Campbell, president of Manitoba’s Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), says that the letters sent to farmers include an April 30th deadline for signage, with some language alluding to crossings being closed if a payment agreement is not reached. For some farmers, these crossings are the only access points to their fields.

CP says that its intent is to “work collaboratively with private crossing owners.” In early 2020, CP began contacting landowners with private crossings with no agreement in place to determine who is responsible for the crossing(s) identified and establish information for the crossing requirements, the railway says.

Campbell says railways have always done and paid for the upkeep of the railway line and crossings, so this is undoubtedly a departure from that tradition. However, it’s currently unclear what entity is legally obligated to do so.

In its changes, the federal government is requiring updates on several aspects of rail crossings, from the width to brush clearing, to signage and identification, and more.

Campbell adds that KAP is currently looking into what the options are for joint federal-provincial funding to cover the cost of the upgrades. However, none of that funding covers the cost of on-going upkeep, adding that the cost to individual municipalities will be huge, as well.

The Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) can authorize crossings and determine who is responsible for paying for them. There are three sections in the Canada Transportation Act that apply to crossings. Section 101 applies to public crossings and Section 102 and 103 apply to private crossings. There are many private crossings in Canada with no written authorizations.

This story has been edited to include details from Transport Canada and CP Rail. Last edit April 30.

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