The Province of Saskatchewan is currently reviewing the Planning and Development Act, 2007, to amend a number of items, but one specifically in regards to future planning, development and subdivision nearby to existing active and abandoned railway lines. So what possible implications could this have on ratepayers, developers, contractors and municipalities?
On July 6, 2013, at 1:15 PM, an unattended, 74-car freight train that was transporting crude oil derailed in downtown Lac-Megantic, Quebec, and tragically killed 47 residents. This accident enforced the need of a country-wide guideline for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations, which is a 122-page publication put forth by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada. This report recommends that “municipalities should take a proactive approach to identifying and planning for potential conflicts between rail operations and new developments in proximity to railway corridors." The intent of the document is to promote awareness of safety issues of building around railways for development (particularly residential), consistency of country-wide standards, a new approval process for development near railways, and increase the quality of life by reducing incompatibility nearby railway property.
If the Province of Saskatchewan adopts this amendment to the Act, then this would be applicable to all railway lines within the Province, regardless of whether the railway line is active or discontinued. My understanding is that the Information Services Corporation parcel classification of “rail” is what would determine the application of the railway regulations. So for those areas that the railway has been removed, but is still owned by a railway company like CN, the regulations would still be applicable.
New development could be required to have additional setbacks from existing railways lines, anywhere between 15 metres to 300 metres depending on the type of development. This setback would be from the rail property line to the main structure wall, but would leave the remainder of the property to be used for roads and alleys, backyards and outdoor recreational spaces, gazebos, garages and vehicle parking. The report made no mention of financial compensation of the subdivision and development implications the setbacks cause developers.
Developers may also be required to construct additional security fencing, engineered safety barriers like earthen berms up to 15 metres wide and 3 metres high, crash berms and crash wallsalong rail property lines. The construction of these berms would be at the developer’s expense and all improvement taxes would be paid by the landowner. The width and height of the berms are dependent on topography and the setback distance of the future structures on site, and a stronger berm or crash wall could reduce the building setback. The report did mention that maintenance of fencing and berms may be completed by the railway company to ensure retention of appropriate safety standards if improvement taxation is waived.
Contractors of new building sites may be required to increase foundation strength for vibration mitigation and use stronger building materials for buildings walls facing railway lines in case of derailment. Additional sound-absorbing materials, structural wall spacing, and door and window placement should be considered to combat noise to occupants, and house designs should have bedrooms further away from the railway side to reduce noise. These types of changes may require architectural and engineered construction plans, which will increase construction costs. Also developers are encouraged to communicate directly with railway companies about landscaping changes for surface and storm water drainage patterns to prevent adverse effects onto rail property.
Municipalities may be required to have alternative road standards for railway crossings, which may include upgrades for existing railway crossings and site lines. Amendments to planning documents would be required to enforce the building setbacks, warning sign installation, and developer responsibilities to complete impact and vibration studies, or viability assessments for development near railways, and then construct the mitigation techniques at their cost.
This is just a snapshot of the 2013 guideline, and individuals are encouraged to read the document, or contact their local Ministry of Government Relations – Community Planning Branch for more information.