By Tim Kalinowski
Last Monday Cypress County resident David Mauer’s son Daniel was trying to get to school. It’s a short drive to Eagle Butte High young Mauer makes every day. But he was suddenly faced with what has become an all too familiar obstacle for people living north of Dunmore using Hwy. 41 coming south: A CP Rail train sitting there blocking the intersection.
“He told me it would move one way and then the other way and then it would just stop,” says Mauer. “So finally after 20 or 25 minutes he decided he might as well just turn around and come back home.”
He son was late for school. Mauer was fed up. He had called the CP Rail customer complaint line about the company blocking that intersection several times before.
“This can be two or three times a day,” states Mauer. “After we have complained, and phoned them, sometimes it would get a little bit better. But then it will just go back to it was. Sometimes you have two engines sitting in the intersection blocking you for no apparent reason. I have pictures with that intersection stacked up with 20 or 30 cars deep just waiting there.”
Mauer decided to call the Courier to try make a little more noise about the issue to see if that might lead to better practices by CP Rail. The Courier took Mauer’s complaint directly to Transport Canada to get the exact regulations pertaining to trains and highway intersections. They responded last Wednesday. This was their reply:
“Under the Grade Crossings Regulations and the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, railway equipment cannot block a public grade crossing for more than five minutes when road users and pedestrians require passage, unless the railway equipment is moving,” they said. “Switching operations at crossings must not obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic for longer than five minutes at a time. When emergency vehicles require passage, railway companies must clear any grade crossing as quickly as possible. Transport Canada supports the safe coexistence of railways and communities.”
Transport Canada went on to say it will be taking actions to inspect this intersection more often now that they are aware there is a long-standing issue. However, there is also something Cypress County can do if it chooses to get involved.
“Grade crossing safety is a shared responsibility between railway companies, road authorities, and private authorities,” the Transport Canada statement goes on to say. “Under the Grade Crossing Regulations, in instances where railway operations regularly obstruct a public grade crossing, a municipality may declare in a resolution that obstruction of the grade crossing creates a safety concern. In such cases, the municipality must notify the railway company in writing that the resolution has been passed and must demonstrate that the blocked crossing creates a safety concern by providing supporting information such as details of specific occurrences.”
Mauer is not confident this will be the last word on the issue. He hopes others will call in to the county and the railway to speak up. It’s not just about his or son’s personal inconvenience, he says, but rather about the larger issue of public safety.
“Safety has got to be number one; that’s the most important thing,” he confirms. “If there is an emergency, people have to get to where they are going, and peoples’ lives matter. I realize the train guys have got their jobs too, but you can’t block an intersection for 20 or 25 minutes.”
The Courier contacted CP Rail to inform them about the impending story. Sam Woodrow, who is listed as the company’s public affairs and communications advisor, acknowledged CP had received one formal complaint about blockage at that intersection this past March, but said in order to take further action they would need other formal complaints which recorded the time and circumstances of each incident.
“Without a more precise time I cannot track down what may have happened or which train was involved (in the Mauer case),” said Woodrow. “Saying that, I encourage your reader to contact CP’s Community Connect group at Community_Connect@cpr.ca or at 1-800-766-7912.