Walking on the railroad tracks. Don’t we all do it occasionally?
Crossing the tracks on foot, not at a traffic crossing. It seems innocent enough.
But if the Canadian Pacific Railway Police Service has its way, we will all be educated and enforced into realizing that in taking these shortcuts we are trespassing on private property.
Sgt. Rupert Sutherland and three other officers were in Nelson this week patrolling the tracks and handing out tickets to anyone setting foot on them.
The tickets are given under the federal Railway Safety Act, and the penalty is a $115 fine, with a court appearance for repeat offenders and for especially dangerous behaviour like riding trains.
It’s about safety and liability, Sutherland told the Star.
“We are trying to reduce fatalities and serious injuries. Unfortunately, we’re still seeing significant numbers across Canada,” he said.
In Canada in 2019 there were 56 incidents on CP rail tracks (not at legitimate crossings) resulting in 38 deaths and 17 serious injuries, according to Sutherland.
Fatalities have increased since wearing earbuds became popular, he added.
Although he said Nelson is considered a high priority for enforcement, he had no statistics on the number of incidents, injuries or deaths on Nelson area tracks, and CP’s head office could not provide the Star with any.
CP police officers have the same powers as any other police officer in Canada. They can detain, arrest, use force, search, and compel people to court. Their jurisdiction is anywhere within 500 metres of the tracks or CP property.
Sutherland says that even though members of the CP police are hired and paid by the company they are agents of the Crown.
“There are misconceptions in the public, that we are private security or we are ‘corporate goons’ and all that type of terminology. But we are completely separate from the company.”
He said CP does not have access to the details of their investigations or other police work.
Sutherland said the homeless camps just west of Nelson beside the tracks are also a safety concern.
“It may sound like stereotyping, and I don’t mean to do that, but a large proportion of the transient people that we find in these camps have either alcohol or drug addiction issues, so that has an increased risk.”
Nelson’s Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan for the Railtown area, completed in 2016, states that a railway crossing or a pedestrian overpass near the former CP station would effectively connect Cottonwood Park and the Railtown district to Kootenay Lake and the waterfront pathway.
“A pedestrian overpass would help to resolve safety issues of people crossing the tracks at unplanned areas, and would help to create a better Nelson-wide connected network for active transportation and recreation,” the plan states.
City planner Pam Mierau told the Star that a local CP employee was on the stakeholder group during the creation of the plan but, when she attempted to communicate with higher levels at CP to start a discussion about a Railtown crossing, the company didn’t seem interested.
“We tried, but we never got very far,” she said, adding the clarification that never in the process did CP commit to building a crossing or an overpass.
In Railtown, CP owns not only the railway tracks but a significant piece of the undeveloped land between the tracks and Lakeside Drive.