The Municipality of Machin, the federal government and CP Rail are now engaged in a $61,000 dispute over railway track maintenance costs. The dispute could lead to necessary tax increases for Machin, Vermilion Bay, Eagle River and Minnitaki residents.
Mayor for the Municipality of Machin, Gord Griffiths, says that in the spring of 2018, the municipality received a letter from CP Rail – advising them of necessary railway track maintenance on Hanslips Road. The cost was originally estimated to be $36,000.
“That bothered me at the time. To do a crossing, as far as I’m concerned – and the legal documents from when the crossing was put in – a crossing is just to allow us to cross the tracks. The crossing should be the road up to the rails, and the planking to get us across.”
Later, the municipality was advised that on top of the $36,000 in track maintenance costs, CP Rail would also be upgrading the railway crossing area – with an updated estimated cost of $122,000.
“We’ve been charged for rails, ties, sub-grade, and more. As far as I’m concerned, that’s track maintenance and not a crossing issue. If we have to replace the planking, I can accept that, but not everything else. For a small municipality, that’s a lot of money.”
Griffiths estimated that to cover the $122,000 bill, the municipality would have to increase taxes by roughly 6.74 per cent to offset the costs. The cost was later re-estimated at $61,000 - for an estimated tax increase of 3.37 per cent - however, Griffiths says that the lowered costs are still unfair for his tax-base, leaving the municipality’s hands tied.
“Something should be changed from the way it is right now. Our hands are tied. We can’t charge a monthly fee to CP Rail. We can’t charge for every train that runs over it. We can’t up their taxes. Our hands are tied. It doesn’t seem right.”
In May, Griffiths met with Kenora MP Bob Nault to discuss the matter. He also met with Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau last week at the Kenora District’s Municipal Association meetings in Red Lake, where Garneau said that he will be personally taking a look at the issue.
“We have railways in our country. Sometimes they have to do upgrades to their crossings. That is a shared responsibility between the railways and municipalities, when there is the need to do that, the two are supposed to work together,” said Garneau.
“Mayor Griffiths has told me that this was not the case. I have asked him to send me more information, and I will be looking closely at that.”
Garneau adds that his department – Transport Canada - offers municipalities the option to apply for a federal grant – the Railway Safety Improvement Program – which can pay for up to 80 per cent of the costs.
Still, this may leave Machin facing a $12,200 bill – if they receive the full 80 per cent of the $62,000 bill. Griffiths also added that he worries that the grant may disappear under a new government in the future, leaving municipalities without funding.
The application period for the federal grant ends on August 1, 2019. The program provides funding to improve rail safety, and to reduce injuries and fatalities related to rail transportation. Eligible projects can include safety improvements, closures of grade crossings, and initiatives to raise awareness about rail safety.
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Machin finalizing budget, rink repairs