SMITHS FALLS — As a kid waiting for the bus, Corey Streight recalls seeing seven cattle killed in one shot as a Via Rail train struck them on the company track that cuts through his family’s 400-acre beef farm.
“Back then, the Via Rail guy came by and … just paid the price for the cattle that seemed fair,” recalled Streight, who today runs Streight Black Angus with his father. Federally owned Via Rail, he added, “was always good” to maintain its livestock fencing along the company line and to pay compensation for rare instances when animals still managed to get through the fence with fatal consequences. “They were always pretty good with us in the past. If a cow got hit, they would crack out a cheque for whatever they were going for that day at the sale barn.”
Things have changed. Streight contacted Farmers Forum recently to raise concern over Via Rail’s stance after his 1,900-lb Hereford bull was hit and killed in October 2019 after finding a downed section of fencing that he says is Via’s responsibility. “There wasn’t much left” of the animal, whose carcass flew into a swamp on the farm after the 10 p.m. collision with the passenger train travelling at more than 100 miles per hour, he reported.
In contrast to the “no questions asked policy” the multi-generation farm has experienced since the track was installed in 1928, Via Rail took a hard line after the latest incident almost three years ago, according to Streight. He said the company refused to reimburse the value of the bull and instead threatened the farm with a $106,000 invoice to clean and repair its locomotive. Via Rail even raised the possibility of pursuing the farm for down time, he added.
“Basically they’re saying, if you push this, we’re coming after you for more than $100,000,” said Streight, who runs a herd of about 30 head at the cow-calf operation.
Ironically, Streight himself is employed off-farm as a locomotive engineer for another railway operator. An animal strike “doesn’t do that kind of damage to an engine,” he asserted.
Via Rail also seems uninterested in fixing any of the mile-plus of fencing it owns to protect its track at the Streight place, according to the farmer. An onsite meeting was supposed to occur three years ago, he said, but never happened.
The company even suggested the family “purposely knew the fence was down, just crazy stuff,” he reported. Streight, however, scoffs at the notion the railway is being used as an alternative means of liquidating cattle. “If I wanted cows sold, why wouldn’t I just take them to the sale barn?”
The situation has Streight wondering how he’s supposed to raise livestock anymore. “I’m so scared if any animals get on the tracks that I’m going to lose everything,” he said.
“We even had the talk, do we still keep animals?” he conceded. Though Streight isn’t ready to exit the beef industry just yet, he also worries about the traditional practice of walking his cattle along his road and over a public railway crossing to access the other half of his pasture on the other side of the track. The farm lacks a private crossing on its own land, but the owner doesn’t see Via Rail entertaining a request for one now.
Private railway crossings have become a source of controversy in and of themselves. Farmers Forum reported last month on CP Rail’s new hard line on passing along the costs of mandated farm crossing upgrades to the involved landowners.