Citizens mobilize to allow train track crossing

we want through

Dozens of citizens mobilized last Sunday to demand a level train track crossing between Mile End and Petite Patrie neighbourhoods.

The fence along the tracks where the citizens gathered shows the scars of a long battle between residents and CP security: over the decades the chain link has been cut through in dozens of places to allow for passage, only to be repatched by CP who owns the land around the train tracks.

According to one count done by the borough, 300-400 people cut across the tracks illegally every day, often as part of the commute from Rosemont metro station to workplaces in the Mile End.

But in the past two years, CP security guards have been on high alert, handing out $150 fines to people caught hopping the tracks and patching the fence more regularly. Some say the crackdown started after an article in Le Devoir drew attention to the number of citizens using the short-cut. People at the event said that taking one of the underpasses is a 15 to 20-minute detour. Some also said they feel less secure in the underpasses and overpasses which are primarily designed for automobiles.

happening in in mile end / petite patrie

The citizens who mobilized had two demands: first and foremost they want CP to stop handing out fines. They would also like the city to look into building a level crossing in the sector.

The second demand may come more easily than the first. Richard Ryan, Projet Montreal borough councilor for the Mile End district, attended the event and said that everyone from citizens to elected officials to business-owners have come out in favour of the level crossing. Now the challenge is to develop a concrete project, probably located at Henri-Julien, and then open negotiations with CP rail.

Noelle Samson, a member of the Comité Citoyen Mile End who has put together a committee to push for a level crossing, says that although the mayors of both the Plateau and Rosemont-Petite-Patrie boroughs are on board, CP falls under federal jurisdiction which complicates the process. She says that studies have been done since the early eighties, but the city has yet to propose a solution to CP. She suggests that Mile-End-Petite-Patrie crossing could be negotiated by the boroughs and serve as a pilot project for city-wide improvements.

To draw attention to the urgency of the issue, citizen organizers had put together a petition and posted home-made signs asking for an open passage. UPDATE: The petition is now available online.

Most of the people at the event seemed less concerned negotiations for an official level-crossing and more frustrated about the recent ticketing.  Many seemed perfectly fine with the system of surreptitious wire-cutting and look-both-ways-before-you-cross : there is even a facebook group with updated information about the status of the various openings in the fence. Nobody was particularly worried about dodging the freighters, which are infrequent and slow-moving in this sector. Heather one of the event’s organizers, said that crossing the street is much more dangerous than hopping the tracks.

But the pleas for CP to turn a blind eye on illegal trespassing route most likely fell on deaf ears.

15 comments

  1. Given that locomotives generally need to sound their horns for a sum total of 15-20 seconds as they approach a grade crossing, I wonder if local proponents of a level crossing mind much additional noise.

  2. This is a very important initiative. The St-Laurent underpass, already quite far for commuters arriving from métro Rosemont, is also very unsafe. It is very unsafe to cycle in the death tunnel below, so many cyclists use the sidewalk, and there are also some pedestrians in the mix. Though couldn’t commuters from métro Rosemont take the St-Denis tunnel? Still, it is important to cut down on barriers between the two neighbourhoods.

    There is a very successful level crossing by Ball Street (one street south of Jarry) between Parc-Ex and Villeray, giving Parc-Ex side residents access to Jarry Park. This has disenclaved these adjoining neighbourhoods and allowed families with children, disabled people, cyclists etc access across the tracks (commuter trains there).

    I live on the Petite-Patrie side, unfortunately I had a meeting at my housing co-op that day so I couldn’t attend. We have been involved in such initiatives, following the planned cycle path along St-Dominique (north of the tracks to Jean-Talon Market and onwards through Villeray) and pushing for stop lights at dangerous corners – what to do about the racing strip along Bellechasse remains to be solved.

    I also wish to thank Alanah for correctly identifying the neighbourhood just north of the tracks as (part of) Petite-Patrie. La Presse mistakenly referred to it as Rosemont, which is quite a bit west of here. Both are part of arrondissement Rosemont-La-Petite-Patrie, but it was still an error.

  3. La pétition peut elle être signée en ligne ? J’habite tout prêt et j’en ai également ras le bol de cette situation !

  4. Why does it have to be a level crossing? What would be wrong with a well designed (bicycle/wheel chair accessible) overpass?

    Besides the problem of having to sound the horn (and afaik the freight trains often go during the night), there’s always the possibility that Montreal one day builds a surface metro, which might use this line.

  5. J’habite à St-Henri depuis plus de 20 ans, et ici, les trains du CN et de VIA roulent trois fois plus vite (72 km/h pour les trains de passagers et 48 km/h pour les marchandises) que sur l’embranchement d’Outremont (vitesse maximale: 24 km/h)*.

    La ligne du CN n’est pas clôturée (le parc Émile Berliner touche à la ligne) et les gens traversent partout (malgré qu’il y ait, sur 1500m, deux passages à niveaux et 4 souterrains), et en 20 ans, je n’ai eu connaissance d’aucune personne qui s’est fait frapper.

    À Pointe-St-Charles, le parc d’Argenson longe la ligne du CN et il n’y a pas non-plus de clôture entre les voies et le parc. Par contre, il y a une quinzaine d’années, une petite fille s’y est fait tuer par un train de VIA Rail; il faut croire que la vie des B.S. ne vaut pas aussi cher que celle des yuppies du Plateau, car il n’y a toujours pas de clôture à cet endroit. Par contre, à Pointe-St-Charles, la ligne est en remblai, et il ya quatre souterrains pour la traverser.

    En comparaison, l’embranchement d’Outremont voit passer au grand maximum une dizaine de trains par jour (et là, je suis optimiste) tandis que la ligne du CN à Saint-Henri dépasse facilement la soixantaine de trains sans se forcer.

    Pour régler le problème des passages sauvages, il suffit simplement que la ville dénoue les cordons de sa bourse et paye de sa poche pour un passage à niveau (il y a même très probablement des subventions fédérales pour ça).

    En attendant, une bonne façon de protester les contraventions serait de prendre 200 personnes, et de se faire donner chacune une contravention, puis de les contester individuellement en cour (quand on croit à une cause, il ne faut pas hésiter à payer de sa personne), tout en assignant à comparaître les différents responsables de la sécurité et de l’exploitation du CP, de même que de la Ville (ils sont payés assez cher, qu’ils gagnent leur salaire). Après un moment, ils vont probablement s’écœurer.

    Et au moins, quand la police du CP sera occupée en cour, elle ne pourra pas donner de contraventions…

    (Note: ce serait totalement idiot de bloquer la voie en protestation; un train de marchandises prend plus d’un kilomètre pour s’arrêter; 10,000 tonnes, c’est plutôt lourd).

    * * *

    Il y a 35 ans, j’allais à une école juste à côté d’un verger (bien qu’en ville à Montréal). Le verger était un raccourci pratique (ça permettait de sauver au moins 1 km de marche) mais il fallait sauter une clôture. Rien de bien difficile pour des adolescents… Mais un jour, une fille s’est fait arracher un doigt en sautant, et le lendemain, une bonne centaine d’éleves sont allés s’asseoir sur la clôture qui n’a bien évidemment pas résisté.

    Après deux semaines, la clôture a été réparée. Le lendemain elle était à terre. Après quatre ou cinq réparations, ils ont finalement compris que ça ne servait à rien de réparer la clôture, alors ils y ont laissé une ouverture pour laisser passer les élèves.

    Dans la même foulée, il y a une dizaine d’années environ, à Boucherville, le CN a décidé de clôturer sa ligne vers Sorel (qui voit aussi peu de traffic que l’embranchement Outremont), ce qui a coupé un quartier en deux, forçant des détours jusqu’à 4km. Le CN ne voulait rien entendre des protestations des gens et le maire, furieux, et a annoncé publiquement qu’il a ordonné à la police de Boucherville de ne rien faire si ils surprenaient du vandalisme dans la clôture. Le lendemain, la clôture était trouée aux endroits stratégiques.

    * Les vitesses sont bizzares, parce que converties des milles à l’heure — les chemins de fer n’ont toujours pas compris que le Canada est au système métrique depuis plus de 30 ans…

  6. Why for years did CP do nothing about people crossing and even walking their dogs on the tracks and now all of a sudden they are cracking down? It’s horse hockey. Probably some middle manager getting his knickers in a twist or pressure from the insurance company (also due to some annoying middle manager). And how can they enforce the ticket? What if you refuse to accept it? Do they strongarm you? It’s ridiculous. They are in the middle of our neighbourhoods and they act as if we are in the middle of their shipping yards. They need to accomodate and they need to do it now.

  7. Montreal needs right-of-way laws, impo.

    In any case, I despise walking through underpasses simply because they are covered in pathogen-rich pigeon feces, and because I worry about being jumped, mugged, knifed, raped, or etc. Also, the noise level from traffic zipping under these passes hurts my ears, not to mention dust being hurled into my face by said traffic.

    Underpasses were designed by motorists for pedestrians.

  8. EMDX: thank you for your post, you made several valid points.

  9. I used to live around there, and I would occasionally “go through the hole.” Even then I didn’t really think about wanting a level crossing. For one thing, the whole area just doesn’t seem very safe, so putting in a level crossing would effectively legitimize it, encouraging people to go where they could easily be mugged. Then there’s the small problem of trains coming and going.

    I don’t really see the problem with the overpass, aside from the cars whizzing by. Perhaps if they made that safer by putting pilons between the sidewalk and the traffic it would help. But seriously, the difference in time between taking the overpass and taking the illegal route is only a couple of minutes (if going between St. Laurent and St. Denis).

    Again, I can understand people wanting quicker access, but this is a dark, shadowy area that has train tracks running through it. Double danger! Putting in a level crossing is a bad idea.

    Also consider that there are plans to punch St. Viateur through to Henri-Julien. Once that’s done you’ll be able to walk from St. Denis to St. Laurent via St. Viateur.

    BTW, I took a photo of the hole in the fence back in 1991:

    http://www.blork.org/mondaymorning/index.php?showimage=198

  10. “And how can they enforce the ticket? What if you refuse to accept it? Do they strongarm you? It’s ridiculous.”

    The story mentions “security guards”. Perhaps the writer could verify if this is really the case. Railways have independent private police forces with official police powers granted by the federal government. If you refuse a ticket from them they can and will strongarm you. The catch however is they only have about 100 officers, so the chances of running into one are limited to these occasional crackdowns. I would like to know if these are the actual police or just hired goons.

  11. Just to respond to the question of who is enforcing and giving out tickets: it is the railway police (CP). If anyone knows more about how they collect the money and where it eventually ends up, please post a message.
    I also think that although particular uses of the tracks may not be *safe* or sanctioned, it is extremely important for people to use the city in creative and interesting ways. One of the most amazing moments I ever saw along the tracks before the crackdown was a person who behind the end of a parked train was playing a cello. it was a really stunning moment, opening a little ways into a more beautiful world.
    The comments by EMDX about the history of CP are really interesting and highlight the way in which in North America it is somehow such a problem to live with trains, whereas in most parts of the world there are level crossings along train tracks all over cities and countrysides.
    I also wanted to mention that it is important to have a level crossing because it is easier for people with bikes and strollers, etc, to move across that way (think of the impossibility of getting up the Parc overpass with a bike or stroller or cart) and also because for the same amount of money to build one pedestrian overpass, we could have an entire series of level crossings, from mile-end to the borders of the Plateau.

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