Council takes next step for railway gates at site of fatality

Guelph-Era­mosa council has taken the next step towards the installation of railway crossing gates at the site of a fatal collision last year.

On April 7, council approv­ed an agreement with Goderich Exeter Railway Company, which will facilitate the formal funding application to help cover the cost of short arm gates and grade crossing pre­dic­tors at a Speedvale Road crossing.

Public Works manager Ken Gagnon has previously stated that the federal Grade Crossing Improvement Program (GCIP) grant could cover up to 80% of the total cost to install gates – expected to be about $191,000 – with the township picking up 12% of the cost and Goderich-Exeter Railway covering 8%.

Gagnon explained there is no immediate financial impact for the township since it usually takes one to three years to complete the installation from the time the application is submitted.

However, the township will have to budget for the township’s share of the upgrade – approximately $25,000 – in the year the work is scheduled, he added.

“The key is, it’s to meet future needs,” Gagnon said of the justification for the new crossing gates.

Councillor Reta Moyer, who was originally opposed to the installation of the gates, said she is now in favour of the upgrade because of anticipated increases in train and vehicular traffic in the area over the next three to five years.

Council unanimously ap­proved the bylaw, entering the township into an agreement with Goderich Exeter Railway Company.

Two deaths sparked gate proposal

Last March, Sridevi Chala­pati, 55, and her daughter  Srina­yana, 9, both of Guelph, were killed after their vehicle  collided with a westbound Via Rail passenger train at a Speed­vale Avenue West railway crossing. Mother and grandmother Prabhavati Buraapalli, also in the car, suffered serious in­juries.

Family and friends have lob­bied for crossing gates since the accident, and started an on-line peti­tion for their cause, which was signed by over 600 people.

But in August 2007, a report filed  Gagnon supported previous correspondence that suggested gates are unnecessary at the railway crossing. The re­port explained that although the crossing is at an awkward angle to the road, Transport Can­ada and the municipality maintain the crossing is safe, because:

– it has warning lights and bells that are in working order;

– the vegetation along the road and tracks does not interfere with the view;

– houses on either side of the track cause a natural slowing of traffic before the tracks; and

– traffic volume is not ex­tremely high in the area.

So council voted unanimously to take no further ac­tion. But last November Gag­non told council he was contacted by Transport Canada offi­cials regarding “the possible future need for a gated crossing at the location.”

Gagnon had an on-site meeting with representatives from Transport Canada and Goderich-Exeter Railway, short­ly after which Transport Canada informed the township the crossing fulfilled  two of its requirements for railway gates – train speeds that exceed 50 miles per hour (currently 70mph), and sight lines that are potentially restricted.

During the meeting, officials also noted that there is a potential for an increase in train and motor vehicle traffic in the area in the next three to five years.

“During discussion with Goderich-Exeter [officials] they stated the number of trains crossing the road at this location is expected to increase by six to eight per day, bringing the daily total to 16 within the next few years,” Gagnon told council.

He noted that three of those extra trains will be GO Trains.

When combined with an ex­pected 10% increase in vehicular traffic, the crossing does fulfill the requirements for a gated crossing, he said.