New Brunswick

Changes coming to Moncton rail crossings years after fatal accident

The federal government will spend $1 million on rail safety upgrades in Moncton, including implementing changes recommended to a downtown grade crossing where a man was struck and killed by a train. 

Crossing where Steven Harel died is one of 11 in Moncton to get safety upgrades

A person crosses the CN rail line in downtown Moncton. The federal government announced it will spend $16.5 million on rail safety upgrades, including changes to 104 grade crossings across the country. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The federal government will spend $1 million on rail safety upgrades in Moncton, including implementing changes to a downtown crossing recommended after a man was killed by a train.

Marc Garneau, the federal minister of transportation, announced the spending at Moncton's Via Rail station Tuesday. 

"As I've said many times before, rail safety is my top priority," Garneau said. 

The money for the Moncton work is part of $16.5 million the federal government announced it will spend on 136 projects across the country under the Rail Safety Improvement Program in 2019-20.

The 11 Moncton upgrades represent the bulk of the $1.4 million the federal government plans to spend in New Brunswick.

A list provided by the federal government indicates eight of the Moncton projects will deal with changes to grade crossings, while other changes are meant to reduce unauthorized access to the rail line.

The intersection of Robinson Street and the CN rail line downtown will be changed. 

That's where Steven Harel died when he was struck by a CN train in July 2016. The 29-year-old was on his way home when his motorized wheelchair became stuck in the gravel at the edge of the rail crossing.

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

An investigation estimated Harel may have been stuck for 50 minutes before he was killed.

Garneau said he was familiar with the "very tragic accident" as he announced the federal spending.

An 18-month investigation by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada suggested improved lighting, additional visual and audio cues, or making the sidewalk intersect the tracks at a 90-degree angle to minimize the risk of getting stuck.

A graphic in the Transportation Safety Board report shows how sidewalks should be aligned to intersect railways at a right angle to make them safer for people using wheelchairs. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

The minister said the work will include those measures.

The work at that intersection is expected to cost $188,000. The federal government will pay $120,400 and the municipal government will also provide funds.

City staff say design work on the upgrades is underway. The upgrades are expected to be carried out over the coming year. 

Moncton Mayor Dawn Arnold said she's "thrilled" about the changes to the crossings. 

The Robinson Street crossing where Steven Harel's wheelchair became stuck in the gravel in 2016. (Shane Magee/CBC)

The city upgraded several downtown level crossings last year, but the crossing where Harel was struck has not been done.

The federal government announced $20 million in railway safety spending under the program in August 2018, though none of it was earmarked for New Brunswick.

Moncton didn't apply for funding under the program because it was awaiting the results of the safety board investigation. The report was issued in February 2018, after the August 2017 deadline to apply for funding. 

Marc Garneau, the federal transport minister, says the funding includes work at 11 rail crossings in Moncton. (Shane Magee/CBC)

Last August, the city said it would seek funds as part of the next round of program spending.

Diane Harel, Steven Harel's mother, previously told CBC she was disappointed the city didn't seek funding to upgrade the crossing earlier.

The family has filed a lawsuit against the city, CN and others. 

The federal spending in Moncton will be used for crossings on Robinson Street, Elmwood Drive, Church Street, Victoria Street, Queen Street, Lutz Street, St. George Street, Mill Road and near Main Street. 

Other projects in New Brunswick include lighting changes in Grand Bay-Westfield and Memramcook, and crossing resurfacing near Westcock Hill in the Sackville area, as well as changes at several grade crossings in Saint John.

The federal announcement also follows an April 4 Via Rail derailment northwest of Moncton. No one was injured when two cars left the track.

The safety board sent broken pieces of rail from the site of the derailment to its lab for analysis.

A spokesperson for the board said there was no further update on the investigation Tuesday. 

About the Author

Shane Magee

Reporter

Shane Magee is a Moncton-based reporter for CBC.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.