Council meets with CN to discuss Benson crossing improvements

Session described as “positive”

A resolution may still be some distance away, but the District of Houston continues to press its case to increase safety where Benson Ave. crosses the CN tracks.

District of Houston councillors met with CN officials this fall in pursuit of installing crossing arms at the location.

But the financing for that kind of project would require the District to seek outside assistance and so it asked CN to support an application to an existing program to cover up to 50 per cent of the project costs and it asked CN itself for financial assistance.

“As part of risk management and mitigation planning, the District believes that it would be in the best interest of all parties involved to have crossing arms installed over this rail crossing,” council stated in a briefing note written for the meeting with CN.

Crossing arms would also reduce the frequency of train whistles at the crossing which, the District said in a briefing note for CN officials, are “disruptive and interferes with the ability of residents and visitors to enjoy their property and the downtown because of the excessive noise.”

Council also wanted wants CN to not increase the length of its empty trains which block vehicular traffic at the Benson, North Nadina and Tweedie crossings.

“When trains block these rail crossings, emergency services are unable to reach the north side of Houston, meaning residents are unable to receive assistance from police, fire and ambulance services. This is especially dangerous because of the amount of heavy industry located in the north side industrial zone,” council’s briefing notes stated.

District of Houston chief administrative officer Gerald Pinchbeck described the meeting with CN as “positive,” noting there remains the need for more discussions.

”Staff are working with CN Rail at this point on pursuing funding for the proposed rail crossing upgrade at Benson Ave.,” he said.

“There is no funding commitment at this time for any crossings from CN, nor any timeline established for whistle cessation.”

For its part, a provided statement from CN indicates that it tries to minimize the time trains pass through roadways.

“It is important to keep in mind that the schedule of trains in one area fit into a much broader network that requires round-the-clock synchronized operations that are vital to the nations’ economy,” the company said.

“Due to these service obligations, trains do have to cross over roadways while vehicles are waiting to cross. We understand that this can cause inconveniences to local residents, however, CN strives to be a considerate neighbour and does its best to minimize the inconvenience to the travelling public.”

As for installing crossing arms, CN said it “continues to work with the District of Houston to discuss potential solutions and will continue to engage with them regarding their project on the Benson Ave. crossing.”

Reducing train whistling is possible at crossings, but CN said train crews are required to whistle at all public crossings regardless of the type of crossing warning system in place.

“Train whistles are safety devices that alert vehicular and pedestrian traffic to the presence of an approaching train and warn trespassers away from the railway right-of-way,” it said.

A municipality can apply to halt whistles at some locations but that requires a series of steps beginning with a detailed safety assessment, CN continued.

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