To avoid collisions, farmers want train company to clear railway crossings
FINCH — A Stormont County beef and hay farmer says he was left shaken after a Canadian Pacific Railway freight train came perilously close to hitting his tractor on a railway crossing obscured by brush and trees.
Vincent Hanniman says the locomotive thundered just six feet in front of his Massey Ferguson 230 open-air tractor as he towed a loaded hay wagon one afternoon last fall. Hanniman says he had stopped at the CP stop sign about 25 feet from the edge of track where a clump of Manitoba maples deceptively hid the oncoming train from his view. Proceeding up the ramp-like crossing on his farm laneway, the farmer was taken by surprise at the sight of the train barrelling towards him. He stomped his brakes just in time.
“When you’re sitting there, it’s .. scary. You hear the clunkety-clunk of the train right in front of you,” Hanniman says, recalling the Oct. 4 incident.
He backed up the tractor to add some distance between himself and the hurtling train. The haywagon jackknifed and a couple of round bales rolled off the back. “I was stuck there.”
He shudders to think what would have happened if he had been just a little further along, or if his feet had slipped off the brakes and clutch.
He blames the near-miss on sightlines obscured by brush that he says CP has allowed to grow up on its own right-of-way. He says he calls CP 3 or 4 times a year to undertake the necessary brush cutting but to no avail.
The company did move the stop signs closer to the tracks the day after the near-miss but needs to do more, Hanniman maintains.
“There’s just no excuse for it,” he says repeatedly. He points out that the railway crossing is also used by the occupants of a separate residential property sharing the same laneway.
What also rankles Hanniman is CP’s lack of maintenance even after attempting to charge him — and others on the Eastern Ontario section of the line — for planned upgrades to railway crossings on private land to comply with upped federal standards. Because of a quirk in the law, CP’s demand applied only to crossings installed before 1888. Targeted landowners were told they could either agree to pay thousands to upgrade these “private crossings,” as well as pay an annual fee, or have the crossings ripped out.
However, Hanniman was able to produce correspondence from the early 1990s in which a CP representative described his site as a “farm crossing” — a key term that prompted the company to drop the demand in his case. He was instead offered continued CP-funded maintenance until 2047.
A Transport Canada spokesperson confirmed that “railway companies are responsible for maintaining sightlines, including removing any trees or brush within the railway right-of-way and over land next to the railway right-of-way.
“If a private landowner has concerns on the safety of a grade crossing, they should bring their concerns to the attention of the railway company. They can also reach out to Transport Canada regional offices to share their concerns,” Senior Communications Advisor Hicham Ayoun said by email.
North Dundas-area cash cropper Carol Bryan sympathized with the risks of poor sightlines at a farm crossing due to uncut brush and trees on CP property. At the Bryan farm in 1982, a 17-year-old employee was lucky to survive as he drove a tractor and full silage wagon over a farm crossing with restricted visibility. The young man, who only saw the train as the tractor was on the tracks, accelerated forward. The locomotive plowed into the wagon behind him and sheared off the rear drawbar and casting of the tractor, right behind the driver, who was uninjured. “The brush was too thick on both sides, so you had to get right up there to see what was going on,” Bryan recalled. “He said, “Oh, my goodness, the train was right there, I could reach out and touch it.’”
And while the Bryan farm has two crossings subject to CP’s recent demand for payment, she said they didn’t reply and haven’t heard back from CP.
Another nearby resident, Estella Rose, showed Farmers Forum a copy of the latest proposed agreement CP forwarded to her last summer. A followup to the company’s initial demand in March 2022, CP lowered its annual crossing fee from $350 to $250 and dropped the requirement for a $5 million liability policy on the crossing.
The agreement would also compel the Roses to pay for crossing upgrades to be installed by CP. The couple has never had to pay to use or maintain the crossing in the past and haven’t signed the agreement.