Mayors want feds to push CN to pay up

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Warwick Mayor Todd Case and Plympton-Wyoming Mayor Gary Atkinson want the federal government to push CN Rail to pay its fair share for drainage work.

The issue came to light last year. Warwick Township administrators raised concerns that CN Rail was refusing to pay the portion of three projects allotted to them under the Drainage Act.

In the last five years, the rail company has simply refused to pay the bills. CN says railways are federally regulated under the Canadian Transportation Act, so they aren’t governed by provincial rules.

Warwick was left holding the bag for $135,000.

That angered councillors who agreed to raise the issue with other municipalities. Dozens of municipalities responded they also have been having problems.

About 60 municipalities surveyed by the Association of Municipalities say they are facing the same problem. About half have up to 10 drains within the railway lands. AMO says CN has outstanding maintenance bills of about $500,000, another $1 million in unpaid construction projects and about $2.7 million dollars in critical capital projects have been delayed because of the national railways stand.

Warwick and Plympton-Wyoming – which is waiting for CN to pay over $80,000 in drainage projects – have expressed their concern to the Ontario government. The province says it still believes the Drainage Act – which was enacted in 1894 – applies to federally regulated railways.

Earlier this month, Case and Atkinson met with London Liberal MP Peter Fragiskatos to talk about the issue and decided to write a letter to the Transport Minister, Omar Alghabra, asking him to step in.

“Over the past five years railway companies, and especially CNR, have become less cooperative on matters pertaining to the (Drainage) Act. Recently, CNR officials have formally communicated CNR’s interpretation that railways are a federally regulated entity, or activity, under Canadian Transportation Act guidelines, as such, are not governed by provincial regulations,” the mayors write.

“This lack of mutual, beneficial cooperation, and refusal to follow provincial law, is delaying scores of projects under the act across the province. CNR’s refusal to pay for completed projects is withholding millions of much-needed dollars from helping develop rural Ontario municipalities.”

And Case and Atkinson say it’s an uphill battle for small municipalities to fight the national corporation.

“Small, rural municipalities have limited resources. They should not have to incur legal costs or unnecessarily use resources to ensure costs under the Drainage Act are paid by CN Rail. We ask that the Minister of Transport call upon all railways to act as a partner to municipalities and agriculture in Ontario as they have in the past and as the Act had intended…

“The existence, and execution, including the honest interpretation, of this legislation, is vital to maintaining the sustainability of Ontario’s roads, highways, railways, utilities, urban-area stormwater discharge systems, as well as agricultural lands essential to food production. This essential infrastructure, Ontario’s drainage systems, supports sensible transportation, healthy-food security, as well as the health and wellness of all of Ontario’s diverse communities.

“Good drainage also provides vital and environmentally impactful flood-control measures for all municipal stakeholders. Its improvement, maintenance, and repair are necessary, now more than ever, in our ever-changing climate.”
The letter asks that the federal government call on all the railways, including CN, to work with municipalities on the issue so drainage projects which have been delayed for years can move ahead.

And they added local municipalities depend on legal instruments such as the Drainage Act to maintain the local infrastructure for agriculture and flood control.