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New rail crossing safety standards proposed

OTTAWA - The federal government is proposing new safety regulations for level railway crossings.

The proposed rules will reduce the number of accidents at so-called grade crossings where railway tracks intersect roadways, says Transport Minister Lisa Raitt.

The proposal comes just five months after a deadly collision involving a Via Rail train and a city bus in Ottawa, although Transport Canada launched its study of rail crossing safety in 2012.

Six people were killed in the September crash.

The regulations would require that sightlines to crossings be clear of any obstructions, including buildings or other structures, as well as trees or brush.

Railway companies would also be barred from leaving railway equipment unattended if it blocks visibility at a crossing.

As well, roadway authorities and railway companies would have to make improvements to safety equipment and crossing signs.

"While Canada has one of the safest rail systems in the world, we can do better," Raitt said in a statement.

"These proposed regulations will make grade crossings safer and save lives."

A cost analysis attached to the regulations suggests that municipalities, provinces and First Nations bands pay for the improvements, with no money from the federal government.

It's estimated the upgrades would cost an average of about $13.5 million annually over a 20-year period.

But Transport Canada says the benefits — including the prevention of fatalities, injuries and damage to railway systems, cars and property — would far outweigh the costs.

The number of accidents at railway crossings has dropped over the past couple of decades, says the department, but fatalities during collisions have recently been on the rise.

"Although grade crossing accidents have generally fallen over the past 25 years, there has been a marked increase in fatalities at grade crossings since 2009," the department said in its regulatory impact analysis statement.

And many of the current regulations are voluntary and are not consistent across the country, it added.

"Inadequate implementation of voluntary standards and a lack of information sharing between road authorities and railway companies have put the safety of Canadians at risk."

The proposed regulations will be open for public comment for 90 days before being enacted.

After that, any new railways crossing that are built will have to comply with the new safety standards.

However, municipalities and railway companies would be given five years to upgrade crossings that are currently in use.

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