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City asks federal help resolving contentious CSX rail crossing

Published on

Tara Jeffrey

Sarnia and Bluewater Trails officials are hoping an agreement can finally be reached on a contentious rail crossing they say leaves local cyclists and pedestrians at risk.

“We’ve been trying to get CSX to install a safe rail crossing that meets Transport Canada requirements for 10 years, but they have refused to cooperate,” said Bluewater Trails chair Tony Barrand.

He’s referring to a gap between the St. Clair River Trail and the Bluewater Trail on Vidal Street in south Sarnia, at what’s known as the Sun Oil Curve.

Trail users are forced to either take the overpass, with its dangerous incline, heavy traffic and narrow shoulders, or a gravel path on the west side of the overpass, officially closed, which leads to live CSX Transportation tracks.

The crossing is the only known gap in the Great Lakes Waterfront Trail, which spans 2,100 kilometres and 114 communities from Grand Bend to the Quebec border.

“The city still owns the right-of-way there, and there is no city record saying CSX ever asked the city for a right-of-way or a closing of that rail crossing,” said Barrand,

The trail’s official website even includes a warning: “Be careful as you approach Sarnia from the south, where the St. Clair Parkway turns into Vidal St. S., as there is a higher volume of fast moving traffic and larger vehicles. Stay to the right of the road, act predictably and signal, to ensure maximum visibility and your own safety.”

Sarnia has submitted an appeal application to the Canadian Transportation Agency; a process available to municipalities when rail companies aren’t willing to negotiate.

“The Agency has acknowledged our appeal and has asked if we’re open to mediation, and we’ve said yes,” said Dave Jackson, manager of development and transportation, adding they’re waiting to hear from CSX.

“The current trail is not a safe option. We need an at-grade crossing to complete the trail network and improve safety.”

If approved, the crossing could cost $30,000 to $300,000, and be eligible to tap into a $600,000 cycling-related boost from the province announced in December.

“The community has been using that crossing ever since the overpass was installed decades ago — people commute from Sarnia to Shell, Suncor, Aamjiwnaang,” said Barrand.

“We’ve got signs on each side of the overpass saying ‘the trail ends here’ because legally, we can’t tell people there’s a physical trail there.

“CSX has ignored that there’s a well-used crossing at that point,” he added. “We don’t feel that ignorance is the way to go with public safety.”

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