City council: Construction near railways blocked

City council: Construction near railways blocked
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MONTREAL — Less than two months after the deadly train derailment in Lac-Mégantic, Montreal has adopted new rules that would forbid the construction of new buildings within 30 metres of busy train tracks and 300 metres of a railway yard.

The new rules would also outline steps that could be taken to improve safety and reduce nuisances like noise and vibrations from rail operations, such as installing safety fences, berms and noise barriers.

Montreal city council voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt the new guidelines, drawn up by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and the Railway Association of Canada. They would be included in Montreal’s new urban plan, which must be adopted by the end of 2014.

Montreal’s agglomeration council is also expected to approve them Thursday, extending them across the island of Montreal.

In the wake of the Lac-Mégantic accident, and the increase in the transportation of dangerous materials by rail, municipalities can’t continue to use the “same-old, same-old” approach to development near railway operations, said St-Laurent borough mayor Alan DeSousa, who proposed the motion at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“We may not be able to change the sins of the past, but we can definitely take a proactive approach to new developments in the future,” he said.

The rules would apply to new residential and non-residential development, but not to existing buildings, DeSousa said.

Both Canadian National and Canadian Pacific have rail tracks crossing the island of Montreal. There are several train yards in Montreal Island municipalities and boroughs, including Lachine, LaSalle, Montreal West, Montreal East, Côte-St-Luc, St-Laurent, Mercier-Hochelaga-Maisonneuve, Point St-Charles, Ville Marie, Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Rivière des Prairies.

Côte-St-Luc city councillor Dida Berku has been calling for more than 20 years for municipalities to adopt railway setback guidelines for development and said she was “elated” when Montreal city council adopted them.

“It’s unfortunate that it comes in light of Lac-Mégantic, but at least maybe we can learn some lessons from it,” she said.

The accident in Lac-Mégantic was a “huge wake-up call” to municipalities, she said.

Montreal is a city built around the railway, she said, and the new guidelines are needed for safety, and to avoid conflicts over issues like noise, vibrations and pollution.

“Residents are entitled to some peace of mind, and not have to be constantly subjected to railway activity,” she said.

DeSousa said development projects on the island of Montreal would have to be reviewed in the context of the new guidelines. He said he believes it unlikely that development projects that don’t respect the new guidelines would be approved between now and the end of 2014.

“It’s definitely a new world and the rules that applied before will have to be reconsidered,” he said. “We would not want to be found in a situation where you might have a derailment in a major urban centre like Montreal. So for all new developments, let make sure we put in place all the measures today.”

The new guidelines could mean the controversial development of the west-end Meadowbrook golf course would not be allowed to proceed. The golf course, which is in Lachine and Côte-St-Luc, has a train yard on its north and west side, with train tracks running east-west through the golf course itself. Several housing developments have been proposed for the site over the past 25 years. Montreal has said building municipal infrastructure for the site is too costly.
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