What is proximity?

Basically, it means “being close to”.

Often, it’s an unavoidable, but acceptable, fact of life. Canadians have been living and working around trains for nearly 200 years. We are neighbours.

In most cases, railways and communities co-exist without serious conflict. When issues arise, they are dealt with in the normal course of business. Communities and railways are both essential foundations of the Canadian economy.

But as communities and railways evolve, they change. New roadways are built as new communities or housing developments are planned. Old industrial buildings are re- built as residential housing. Rail operations change in order to meet new customer needs.

All these have the potential to bring people closer to active rail operations. Experience has shown that will often generate complaints and calls for changes to existing rail operations.

Such changes are not made easily. Railways are obliged, by federal law, to meet the rail freight transportation needs of customers. They must also meet those needs efficiently and cost-effectively, in order to keep their customers competitive. Passenger and commuter rail must provide affordable rail service.

In all rail operations, safety is the number one concern. A major component of rail safety is continual inspection and maintenance of rail infrastructure.

The practical solution, then, is for railways and communities to work together to plan new developments and re-purposing of existing infrastructure to minimize proximity issues.

That is what led to RAC’s creation of the Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations (2013). Essential components of the Guidelines include:

  • Adequate setbacks to address safety, noise and vibration concerns
  • Construction of crash walls where adequate setbacks are not possible
  • Effective communication between municipal and rail officials as part of planning process
  • Inclusion of RAC Proximity Guidelines in Municipal Planning Acts

Since 2013, RAC has worked to encourage Canadian municipalities to adopt the Proximity Guidelines. These efforts are succeeding, and continuing. The City of Montreal became the first major urban area in Canada to adopt the guidelines into its long term development plan in January 2015. Today, the efforts of the RAC Proximity Initiative has resulted in over 60 municipalities across Canada having adopted all or parts of the Guidelines into their land use plans, 10 large urban cities are reviewing the Guidelines and more than 100 other municipalities have sought railway commenting for setbacks and safety barriers as potential conditions of approval.