Moncton defends not fixing rail crossing where man died

The City of Moncton says it didn’t apply for federal funding to make rail tracks safer because it was waiting for a report from the Transportation Safety Board report on the death of Steven Harel.

'It's sad to see that it's not going fast enough,' says mother of man who was hit by train

Transport Canada announced $20 million in funding for railway safety but none of that money will be spent in New Brunswick. (CBC)

The City of Moncton says it didn't apply for federal funding to make rail tracks safer because it was waiting for a report from the Transportation Safety Board report into the death of Steven Harel, who was hit by a train at the Robinson Street crossing.

Last week, the federal government announced $20 million for more than 100 projects throughout the country to improve  rail infrastructure. None of that money will be spent in New Brunswick. 

To get the funding, Stephane Thibodeau, the city's transportation co-ordinator, said the city had to apply by Aug. 1, 2017, which was before the board issued its report.

Long before the board's report was released in February, it was known that twenty-nine-year-old Steven Harel was hit by a CN train in July 2016, after his wheelchair became stuck on the tracks. 

But ​Thibodeau said the city wanted to see the safety board's recommendations so it would know how much money to ask for from the federal infrastructure program.

Harel died at the scene, and investigators believe he could have been stuck there up to 50 minutes before the CN freight train struck him. 

"It's sad to see that it's not going fast enough," said Diane Harel, Steven Harel's mother. "I'm sure when they get the funding they will start repairs and we'll be happy."

Steven Harel, 29, died on July 27, 2016 after his wheelchair got stuck at a level crossing in downtown Moncton. (Diane Harel)

Thibodeau said the city has asked for a maximum total of $600,000 from the next round. Upgrades to the Robinson Street crossing will cost at least $180,000.

The work at the Robinson crossing will include creating a smooth, consistent surface out of concrete instead of asphalt.

The upgrades will also include tactile cues, such as a rough texture or bumps, to help people who are visually impaired. The angle of the sidewalk will also be changed. 

Although she's relieved the city has applied for funding in the second round, Diane Harel said she was sad, disappointed and angry that Moncton hadn't applied for funding sooner.

'Have to be patient'

Diane Harel, Steven Harel's mother, was fighting back tears as she spoke about waiting patiently for federal funding that will improve railway safety. (CBC)

"It's taking a long time but I guess we have to wait … we'll be happy when it's all done," she said while fighting back tears.

"We aren't the ones that are deciding because if we were, it would've already been done. But we're patient." 

At the end of its 18-month investigation into Harel's death, the Transportation Safety Board concluded people with reduced mobility continued to face risks when using railway crossings across the country, and more needed to be done to ensure their safety.

The Robinson Street crossing has been a particularly contentious issue in the city, with an apartment block just down the road housing several people with reduced mobility.

The lawsuit 

In February, Harel's parents filed a lawsuit against the city of Moncton and CN — as well as the wheelchair manufacturer and supplier, alleging negligence.

The safety board investigation found that CN had done work on the asphalt a month before Harel's death, and the reflective white lines meant to guide pedestrians through the crossing at night hadn't yet been repainted.

As a result of the work, there was a small hole in the asphalt at the edge of the sidewalk, where Harel's front wheel became lodged in the gravel, according to investigators.

In statements of defence filed in court in the spring, both the city and CN denied any negligence leading to Harel's death, and said the crossing met all regulatory standards.

With files from Gabrielle Fahmy