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Public safety, the environment and B.C. residents with rail crossings on their property are all at risk from CN Rail. The last few months have seen harmful spills, train derailments and angry citizens.

The recent privatization of BC Rail – the operating rights were sold to CN Rail in 2004 in a complex and bizarre deal – has seen CN Rail order B.C. residents with private crossings on their property to bring the crossings up to federal regulations. The residents must also pay for upgrades and pay an annual maintenance fee of $535 per year.

When BC Rail was a publicly owned operation, landowners typically did not pay the maintenance fee. But now that CN Rail has the operating rights, maintenance costs fall under the Canadian Transportation Agency and Canada Transport Act, which says that the property owner is responsible for the maintenance fee. This fact was not widely publicized when CN Rail took over the operation.

CN Rail is also asking that all crossings follow federal rules, which say that the terrain within 25 feet of either side of a crossing must be level. If there is a drop beyond the 25 feet mark, it can only be a five per cent grade. Landowners must pay for these upgrades. For farmers in B.C., the costs are even higher because CN Rail is demanding they have $10 million in farm liability coverage.

On the environmental and public safety front, CN Rail – see http://www.caw.ca/news/factsfromthefringe/issue8.asp for the privatization debacle of CN Rail – is no better. Figures from the Transportation Safety Board show accident rates have been climbing for all Canadian railways; however, CN Rail tops the list.

Since August 2005, nine CN Rail trains have derailed. One derailment west of Edmonton spilled hundreds of thousands of litres of toxic oil into Lake Wabamun. Two days after that derailment, a CN Rail train jumped the tracks near the Fraser River and spilled highly corrosive sodium hydroxide into the waterway, killing thousands of fish. Both derailments created poisoned water sources for wildlife and the public. The long-term effects are not yet known.

After the derailments, CN Rail officials claimed their safety record is one of the best in the industry with a 17 per cent decline in their accident rate for North America over the previous year. But the numbers for Canada show that their accident rate has been increasing for at least six years.

The derailments and other problems at the privatized CN Rail have become significant public problems with not much accountability on the part of the rail carrier. The only recent move by the federal government has been a safety and maintenance audit. It’s the first time Transport Canada has conducted an audit for a single rail carrier.