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  • Writer's pictureDouglas W. Judson

Transport Minister Responds to Rail Safety Concern

On November 29, 2021, I made a complaint to the federal Department of Transport's rail safety division following an incident the previous day in Emo, Ontario during which half of the community was blocked off by a train breakdown for several hours.

The thrust of my complaint was as follows:

I am writing to alert you to an incident involving CN rail that occurred yesterday in the Township of Emo, Ontario.

Yesterday, around 7:30 PM CT, a CN train had an engine breakdown, blocking all 4 crossings into the south of the town. As you can see on a map of the community, the southern portion of the town is locked between the Rainy River and US border and the CN line.

With no crossing open, this means that 911 services were not available for hundreds of people — with ambulance, fire service, the police detachment, and the nearest emergency room on the north side of the tracks.

This also caused significant inconvenience. Many people — including youths — were unable to return home after jobs or other activities and errands or to attend planned activities or report to work on time.

This map shows the 4 crossings into the community which were blocked, isolating citizens on the south side of the rail line:

On January 24, 2022, I received a response, signed by Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra. It reads as follows:

Thank you for your correspondence of November 29, 2021, regarding a Canadian National (CN) rail incident in the Township of Emo, Ontario.

The safety and security of Canadians and the transportation system are Transport Canada’s top priorities. Under the Railway Safety Act and the Transportation of Dangerous Goods Act, Transport Canada is responsible for regulating the safety of railway operations throughout Canada.

Federally regulated railways are required to comply with the Canadian Rail Operating Rules, which are available at With respect to the amount of time that trains are allowed to impede vehicular traffic at public crossings at grade, Rule 103(d) states that no part of a train or engine may be allowed to stand on any part of a public crossing at grade for a longer period than five minutes when vehicular or pedestrian traffic requires passage. Switching operations at such a crossing must not obstruct vehicular or pedestrian traffic for a longer period than five minutes at a time. When emergency vehicles require passage, employees must cooperate to clear public crossings at grade and private crossings as quickly as possible.

CN confirmed that the locomotive controlling the train was subject to a mechanical failure. Transport Canada recognizes that this was an isolated incident and there was no intent to block the crossings, and the railway took all reasonable measures to rectify the situation as quickly as possible.

Should a similar situation arise in the future, please note that there is an Emergency Notification Systems (ENS) sign located at each crossing with critical contact information for the public to reach the responsible railway and to identify the specific location in the event of an emergency. Additionally, we encourage you to report any future incidents involving trains that are stopped at these crossings for more than five minutes to Transport Canada’s Rail Safety Directorate at When reporting a blocked crossing, please include the railcar or locomotive identification number, as well as the time, date and duration of the train stopped on the crossing.

This is the second time in less than 2 years that I have publicly raised concerns about rail safety in the Township of Emo. Here is some media coverage of my prior concerns.

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