A federal grant is spurring long-sought safety improvements to the Benson Ave. CN rail crossing. (Houston Today photo)

A federal grant is spurring long-sought safety improvements to the Benson Ave. CN rail crossing. (Houston Today photo)

Barrier arm, lights and fencing to be installed at Benson rail crossing

Federal grant is helping finance project

The District of Houston’s efforts to make its transportation infrastructure network safer has taken a major step forward with word of a federal grant to improve the Benson Ave. level rail crossing.

A crossing arm with an active warning system is up for installation this year thanks to a $408,368 grant from Transport Canada, part of the $21 million in various rail safety projects set to take place across Canada this year and next.

The total estimated cost is $487,300 with the District to finance the rest from its surplus.

And a further $213,500 expenditure is planned next year for a total anticipated project cost of $700,800.

Next year’s work includes overhead crossing lighting, a much better separation of the heritage church parking lot compared to the road and fencing to stop trespassing.

The difference between the federal grant and complete cost will be paid by the District of Houston using money from its surplus.

Exactly how much the District will have to allocate won’t be known until District officials obtain detailed cost items and then present those to council for its consideration.

And because this involves CN, it will be doing the installation work, noted District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck.

“Our next steps will be to confirm the cost of the crossing upgrade with CN Rail, and bring this information to council for approval,” he said.

The federal grant this year of $408,368 is in excess of the 80 per cent contribution the federal government usually makes for projects of this kind through Transport Canada’s rail safety improvement program.

The District is anticipating receiving 80 per cent of next year’s expenditures.

Pinchbeck added that the federal safety program does pay 80 per cent of a project’s expenses but only up to the total amount of the contribution.

The desire for the Benson Ave. project has been on the District’s ‘to do’ list for several years, prompted by concerns from residents and business owners on the north side of the CN tracks.

The District had already commissioned a detailed analysis of the crossing area, releasing it in 2019.

“In order to meet [new] requirements, the crossing will need to be upgraded from the current active warning system of flashing lights and bells to a flashing lights, bells and gate system,” the study noted.

“The issue of trespassing must also be resolved by extending and installing new fences along with the installation of No Trespassing signs,” the study added.

People crossing tracks on foot come from the residential development to the north of the crossing and while a fence exists along the south edge of the tracks, there is no fence for the north side of the track.

“Moreover, the south side fence will require extension to prohibit and discourage trespassing,” the study continued.

Improved measures to outline where the heritage church parking lot is from the roadway leading to the crossing are also called for with the study noting that although crossing lights are “visible, the church parking lot is not marked or an entrance/exit delineated, thereby making it difficult to assume where drivers may enter or exit the space.”

That separation to be accomplished by what is being called a boulder barrier has a price tag of $20,000 while pedestrian fencing is to cost $86,000 and overhead crossing lights a further $107,500.

These improvemensts, particularly fencing to restrict pedestrian access, will also help council work toward another goal at that location and that is to achieve a safety standard sufficient that CN will not need to have it trains blow their whistles at the location, said Pinchbeck.

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