Provincial rules suggest railway should pay city for wildfires along its tracks

Provincial legislation suggests CN Rail ought to compensate Winnipeg for fires alongside its tracks — but the city won't say whether it intends to push the railway to pay up.

But city won't say definitively whether it intends to seek compensation from CN Rail for weekend fires

A fire burned Sunday along railway tracks between Wilkes Avenue and Sterling Lyon Parkway. Provincial legislation suggests CN Rail is liable for the firefighting costs. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Provincial legislation suggests CN Rail ought to compensate Winnipeg for fires alongside tracks — but the city won't say whether it intends to push the railway to pay up.

Earlier this week, Winnipeg Fire Paramedic Service ​deputy chief Tom Wallace said a series of grass fires in southwest Winnipeg may have been caused by a passing train.

After meeting with CN Rail officials Wednesday, he softened that position to state the cause of fires remains undetermined.

The provincial Wildfires Act, most recently amended in 2015, states railways must compensate municipalities for the cost of fighting fires alongside railways.

The act states the railway "is liable for all costs and expenses of extinguishing the fire incurred by the Crown or a municipality that constitute a debt due to the Crown or municipality."

The act also states the railways are held responsible for fires alongside tracks, unless the company in question can prove otherwise.

"Where a fire originates within 100 metres of the centre line of a railway track, the railway … is presumed to have caused the fire unless satisfactory proof to the contrary is provided to the department," the act states.

'We do what's right': CN

CN Rail policy, however, appears to differ from the provincial legislation.

The railway does not automatically pay the city to deal with fires along its tracks, Manitoba public affairs manager Kate Fenske said in a statement.

"CN provides compensation related to brush fires. If we cause a fire, we do what's right when it comes to damages and costs," Fenske said.

"We continue to investigate the circumstances around the fires along our right of way of Sunday. That includes ongoing reviews of equipment, train movements and inspection reports."

The City of Winnipeg provided an oblique response to the question of whether it intends to demand payment for the grass fires along CN's track.

"We are currently exploring potential options to recover costs," communications manager David Driedger said Thursday in a statement.

Driedger did not respond to requests to clarify his statement.

About the Author

Bartley Kives

Reporter, CBC Manitoba

Before joining CBC Manitoba, Bartley Kives spent most of his career in journalism at the Winnipeg Free Press, covering politics, music, food, the environment and outdoor recreation. He's the author of the Canadian bestseller A Daytripper's Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada's Undiscovered Province and co-author of Stuck in the Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg. His work has also appeared in publications such as the Guardian and Explore magazine.

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