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.
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.