BANFF – Canadian Pacific Railway has ruled a formal controlled crossing in the location where residents illegally cross the train tracks between the Banff townsite and industrial compound won’t make the grade.
In a closed door meeting on Monday (March 27), the railway giant informed council and certain members of administration that a controlled crossing with lights and signals, also known as an at-grade crossing, is off the table.
As a result, council has asked administration to engage with CP and Parks Canada to investigate the potential for a bike lane along the existing roads, and to look into the feasibility and costs of increasing Roam public transit for residents who work and live in the compound.
“I have consent from CP Rail coming out from our in-camera discussion to say that CP does not support an at grade-crossing, interim or permanent … So when we talk about the at-grade crossing, for absolute clarity, that’s off the table,” said Mayor Corrie DiManno.
“This is due to the many safety issues and risks of an at-grade crossing in this location and we support their position as we also want to ensure solutions are as safe as possible.”
The train tracks between Marmot Crescent and Eagle Crescent continue to be used as a shortcut for residents working and living in the industrial compound, who want to avoid walking or biking via Banff Avenue and Compound Road.
There have been calls throughout the years for a safe crossing where residents illegally cross, which only heightened after a 19-year-old woman was struck and killed on the train tracks on Dec. 29 2022. While she was not struck by a train directly in the immediate area of the illegal crossing, it was not too far away.
The young woman, who was known as Raven Sillito to her friends in Banff but River Sillito to her family and friends in her hometown of Fort Macleod, was struck by a westbound Canadian Pacific container train as she walked westbound on CP’s main line through Banff.
RCMP believed Sillito was wearing earbuds at the time of the incident, which may have contributed to her failing to hear the approaching train along the straight stretch of track. CP, which hands out $250 fines for those caught trespassing in the area, beefed up patrols of the area following the fatality.
Counters in the area indicate there were more than 70,000 illegal crossings in 2019, 46,000 in 2020, 42,300 in 2021 and 47,600 illegal crossings in 2022.
Stephen Allan, engineering coordinator for the Town of Banff, said the position of the trail counter in the area captures most but not all individuals crossing the tracks.
Based on footprints in the snow each year, Allan said there are several different routes being used in the area.
“In addition, the Town is aware that CP Rail police conducted more regular patrols and enforcement at this location last summer, which may account for the lower count in August,” he said, noting 1,900 illegal crossings that month compared to 4,340 in August 2021, 4,181 for that month in 2020 and 7,212 in August 2019.
Coun. Hugh Pettigrew is worried residents will continue to illegally cross the train tracks between Whiskey Creek neighbourhood and Eagle Crescent in the compound regardless of any improvements made.
“How do we stop people from crossing if there’s no barrier there?” he said.
DiManno, who asked for a meeting with CP to look at solutions for a safe crossing after Sillito was killed, said CP is responsible for determining what types of crossing are allowed on its tracks, while Parks Canada identifies what, if any, development is allowed on its land outside town boundaries.
She said solving this ongoing trespassing problem with infrastructure is complicated and costly, noting preliminary cost estimates to put an overpass in this environmentally sensitive area are about $12.5 million.
“Personally, I will find it really hard to support a $12 million overpass. I’d rather that magnitude of money go towards solving our housing crisis or go towards projects that help us mitigate climate change as examples,” she said,
“That being said, I’m willing to expend time, energy, resources on trying to enhance active mode options – specifically bike and transit – to the compound.”
Right now, DiManno said riding a bike via Compound Road is a “harrowing experience”, noting she has ridden in busy traffic and crossed Banff Avenue from the Legacy Trail.
“I consider myself a fairly confident road cyclist most of the time, but that intersection and road is mildly to majorly frightening depending on vehicle volumes and speeds,” she said.
“I appreciate this is not a Town of Banff road, this is a Parks Canada road, but I hope we can explore with Parks Canada and CP Rail improvements to this route or other alternative routes.”
According to DiManno, perhaps the least complicated and least expensive answer for safer access is increasing Roam transit to and from the compound beyond the current service of a couple of hours coinciding with the beginning and end of each work day.
“While that’s a fantastic start to trying to solve this issue, I totally understand how this does not meet the needs for those who would need to transition from commuting via the illegal crossing,” she said.
The mayor acknowledged the rocky start with the service extension to the compound given pressures from last summer on the transit system, but believes those problems were smoothed out over winter.
“If we can get the service to a reasonable frequency there should be no reason for folks to use the illegal crossing,” she said. “I see this as being most easily implemented and cost-effective way of trying to provide safe access.”
CP officials were initially expected to meet council in November 2021 to talk about solutions to the illegal crossing but a weather disaster in British Columbia that led to the collapse of infrastructure, including railway lines, meant CP had to cancel.
Representatives for CP were invited to publicly address council on Monday; however, CP asked for a closed door meeting under sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act related to advice from officials and disclosure harmful to business interests of a third party.
When contacted following the meeting, CP did not provide a spokesperson but gave an emailed statement.
"Crossing safety is a shared responsibility between residents, the Road Authority and the railway," according to the statement.
"CP supports the objective to improve railway crossing safety and is committed to continued collaboration with the Town of Banff to find a crossing solution that is safe and compliant."