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This article was published 7/9/2018 (1350 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
While CN insists its safety protocols will prevent a major downtown accident, a local advocate says a mixed-use development at The Forks will breach Winnipeg city council’s rail-safety guidelines.
Railside at The Forks is a 12-acre plan aiming to convert the site’s northern parking lots into 1,200 low-rise apartments with street-level storefronts.
However, the project’s plan runs contrary to 2013 guidelines established by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM), in conjunction with the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) industry group.
Those guidelines say main railway lines should have a 30-metre buffer to any new buildings, starting at the property line. The planners involved with the project instead measured that setback at the railroad itself.
In its concept plan, The Forks Renewal Corporation (FRC) said it had an "aim to ensuring consistency" with the FCM guidelines, but cited "the significant reduction in developable area that such a setback would impose."
St. Boniface resident André Vermette keeps an eye on railway-safety issues around the city, and said the 30-metre setback is supposed to include the entire railway’s right-of-way so any future expansion on the railway’s part doesn’t mean trains are operating too close to condos.
"I just find it atrocious that they’ve totally ignored the guidelines that have been in place for several years and are pushing to build a massive development right by where the trains are passing by," Vermette said in a recent interview.
"They basically hide behind this farce that they’re reviewing the guidelines, but they seem to have no interest in applying what the actual guidelines are. They seem to be more interested in high-density development."
The FRC had the issue studied by engineering firm Hatch, which declared that because the rail corridor is low-speed, "the proposed setback is acceptable and in keeping with the spirit and intent of the FCM/RAC guidelines."
The guidelines for elevated railroads suggest the project ought to have a raised berm to mitigate the impact of a derailment and Vermette said there should be measures to cut down on vibration and noise (the plan does mention pedestrian connections that reduce noise).
Vermette raised the issue with area councillor Matt Allard, who had his council colleagues endorse the FCM guidelines in February 2015, partially out of concern from the Lac-Mégantic, Que., rail disaster. A 2013 derailment in the community’s downtown and resulting explosion killed 47 people and destroyed more than 30 buildings.
Allard said the guidelines won’t be official until the OurWinnipeg master plan is ratified, likely next year, but city staff are following them.
"We don’t have hard-and-fast rules at this time; our city planners study and reference the rail proximity guidelines, in their consideration for recommendations for council," Allard told the Free Press.
He said he supports the planners’ interpretation of the guidelines, especially "where the environment needs to be considered, and where our city planners will make a recommendation based on all the information available."
Vermette said city officials need to take a deep look at railroads throughout the city, including when it approves new builds, but also through an analysis of existing rail infrastructure.
"I don’t see that many people speaking out about it," he said, while citing reports Canada is seeing a boom in oil shipments by rail.
The National Energy Board released data last month showing more than 200,000 barrels of oil transported by rail were exported daily, on average, for the month of June — the equivalent of 340 tank cars.
It’s unclear how many of those cars go through Winnipeg; both major rail companies publish the percentage of types of goods they transport through each province, but not the amount of those shipments.
CN reported in 2017, seven per cent of its Manitoba shipments involved dangerous goods, of which 31 per cent were crude oil and 18 per cent were liquefied petroleum gases.
CP reported 11 per cent of its shipments nationwide involved dangerous goods in 2017, and almost 35 per cent of those in Manitoba were petroleum crude, while 30 per cent were mixed shipments that included dangerous goods.