Walkers at risk, but CN says “No” to crosswalk improvements.
“This corporation is lost…they’ve lost their connection to the communities they are housed in,” Sussex CAO Scott Hatcher
SUSSEX – A planned crosswalk upgrade to ensure pedestrians can move safely through town has been rejected by CN and Transport Canada, causing frustration at Sussex Town Hall.
“We’re extremely disappointed. Our people need to know we can’t better protect them because we are lost in a bureaucratic nightmare,” says Sussex Chief Administrative Officer Scott Hatcher.
“They clearly believe Sussex is not competent in these types of decisions and design enhancements in our community.”
“There’s just no need to have such a superficial crosswalk improvement tied up over a year in bureaucracy.”
The train tracks run through the downtown core in Sussex. The crosswalk that runs off of it between the tracks and Maple Avenue was red flagged as a safety risk in a traffic study commissioned by the Town in 2016. The problem in that area, Hatcher explains, is pedestrians are forced to cross three lanes of traffic with their backs to oncoming traffic when walking toward Knocks Cafe/Arts and Culture Centre of Sussex (AX). It’s dangerous, and it’s unnecessary, Hatcher says. The solution in the busy, tricky area is to extend an existing island to create a safe pause, similar to what the Town did successfully in front of Town Hall two years ago. But the federal authorities have said no, citing the small adjustment as a violation of the Railway Safety Act updated five years ago. It dictates all new intersections must be placed 30 meters from the railway crossing. It’s not a new intersection, however, Hatcher insists.
“We are reconfiguring something that exists. The island exists, and the crosswalk exists,” he says. “Our citizens are left in a high-risk crossing situation because we’re not allowed to modify a crosswalk. That’s absurd. “This is simply bureaucracy gone amok. There’s something fundamentally flawed here.” He says CN has not returned further correspondence since he asked Sean Finn, executive VP of Corporate Services for CN, to reconsider the safety modification on June 30th. The correspondence remains unanswered today. When CN arranged a meeting several weeks ago to discuss the matter, the Town was not invited to the conversation.
“It’s their way or the highway,” Hatcher says. “That leaves the Town in a position where it cannot improve pedestrian safety and protect the citizens of our community, and that is absolutely unacceptable to the Town. “This corporation is lost as far as I’m concerned,” adds Hatcher, an engineer. “They’ve lost their connection to the communities they are housed in.” Hatcher referred to the cluster of 2014 court cases where citizens charged for trespassing by CN for crossing in the wrong place on the downtown tracks had their tickets tossed out by a provincial court judge. At that time CN repeated their view that harsh action was necessary to ensure pedestrian safety. “But today we have a solution to enhance pedestrian safety and it no longer matters,” Hatcher says. “It just makes no sense.”
To comply with the legislation, the Town would have to acquire millions of dollars in real estate to redesign the road surface to accommodate a street / crosswalk change that meets the 30-meter required distance from the railway crossing. That would require the destruction of businesses and other key structures in Sussex’s core including the Post Office, Fire Station, the AX Centre, Sharps Drug store, Bank of Montreal and more for the sake of building a crosswalk.
“That is absolutely ridiculous, and it’s negligent,” Hatcher says. “No one will destroy $20 million of tax base to paint a $24 crosswalk. “That amounts to expropriation without compensation, and absolutely ridiculous to expect.”
The Town questions how a railway and its regulator (Transport Canada) continually harping on railway safety completely disregard pedestrian safety in an urban setting? But, now given the determination by Marc Cormier, P. Eng., Railway Works Engineer, Transport Canada/Government of Canada, a senior professional engineer employed by transport Canada said that the Town is responsible. Cormier states “this would not address the issue of vehicles stopping on the track when no trains are present and has the potential to allow drivers to develop bad habits by thinking it is safe to regularly stop on the crossing surface.” Hatcher believes this is clearly a misapplication of the Act and an unreasonable determination Transport Canada, and believes given Cormier’s experience and professional responsibility that no municipality in Canada is responsible for the “bad habits” of every driver in Canada, or even in Sussex for that matter. In Sussex’s opinion this is a complete misapplication of the Act and a gross determination of a new intersection, but the Town believes it expedites a predetermined decision by CN.
Hatcher has reached out to Fundy Royal MP Rob Moore asking for his help in Ottawa. Town Council is hoping to be given an opportunity to appeal the decision to the Minister of Transportation. “CN’s handling of this can be classified as pretty greasy,” Hatcher says.
The railway crossing on Main Street has been in place since the day the tracks were laid in Sussex prior to 1859 as part of the link between Saint John to Shediac, Hatcher explained. Much has changed since then to traffic and pedestrian numbers travelling within the busy core.
Pedestrian safety has been a priority in Town with Council making important investments in recent years to improve the way people move through Sussex.