Thousands of Winnipeg properties don't meet new national rail-line setback recommendations

Thousands of properties throughout Winnipeg don't meet the rail buffer zone recommendations set out by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).
Rail cars parked in Winnipeg`s downtown CPR rail yard. (Brett Purdy/CBC News)

Thousands of properties throughout Winnipeg don't meet the rail buffer zone recommendations set out by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM).

A CBC News analysis of the city's rail network reveals that close to 15,000 parcels of land in the city are either partially or completely within the minimum recommended distance from rail lines, found in the FCM's 2013 report, Guidelines for new development in proximity to railway operations.

The report recommends that the following buffer zones between homes and rails lines be used in future developments across the country:

  • 300 metres for rail yards
  • 30 metres for main lines
  • 15 metres for branch and spur lines

Is your home within the setback limits? 
The interactive map below illustrates the recommended buffer safety zones around each rail artery in the city`s rail network.

The analysis shows that neighbourhoods such as Transcona, Fort-Rouge, River Heights, the North-End and St. Boniface are among the areas with the most private properties living in close proximity to train movement.

The councillor for St. Boniface says that he campaigned on rail safety in 2014, because that's what residents in his ward wanted. "Since the events of Lac Mégantic there's a new awareness," said Matt Allard.

In 2002, several CN rail cars came crashing down the embankment in north St. Boniface near Whittier Park. Rail cars containing household cleaning products came to rest in the backyards of homes adjacent to the rail line, startling many residents and triggering former city councillor, and now Liberal MP for St. Boniface Dan Vandal to begin a dialogue on the issue.

A derailment in 2012, cause several rail cars to come crashing down into yards in St. Boniface. (CBC News)

Matt Allard says those types of incidents serve as wakeup calls for citizens.

"There's also the geographic reality of the ward, where we have a lot of rail criss-crossing across the St. Boniface ward. Certainly we want to do everything we can to mitigate risks, " the councillor for St. Boniface said.

In an administrative report on rail safety presented on Tuesday to the city's property planning and development committee, bureaucrats said that these non-binding recommended setbacks are "not intended as retrofits for existing residential neighbourhoods," but noted that the city could, for example, require certain risk-mitigation measures be taken by property owners in older, built-up neighbourhoods living in close proximity to rail lines as a condition of approval for rezoning requests, building permits approvals, variance application and others items.

Top 5 busiest rail lines in Winnipeg:

  • CNR Rivers (runs along Taylor Avenue): 40-50 trains per day
  • CNR Redditt (runs along Dugald Road: 50+ trains per day
  • CNR Sprague (exits Symington Yards to the South): 20+ trains per day
  • CPR Carberry (separates the North End from the West End): at least 20 trains per day
  • CPR Keewatin (runs through Elmwood): at least 20 trains per day

Source: January 2016 PP&D committee report

Livability an important consideration

In addition to the recommended buffer zones set out in the FCM's report being contemplated by city hall, quality of life is an important factor. A number of items in the report deal with ways to mitigate noise, vibrations and structural issues with surrounding homes and buildings.

The president of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities who was involved in establishing the setback guidelines says that in older neighbourhoods certain measures can still improve the situation such as acoustic fences and building berms where possible.

"There is some landscaping, some berming that can occur to improve the quality of life of those in proximity within that identified zone," said Raymond Louie, who is currently the acting mayor of Vancouver.

He said that the onus is on all stakeholders to reduce the risks and nuisance caused by rail transportation.

"We're doing our part as local government to also take on some of that responsibility by ensuring that as we plan and build out our cities and we intensify residential use and other uses along these corridors, that we do it in a way that is responsible," said Louie.