What do two derailments a year apart mean for development along the Dupont rail corridor?

Two cars from a Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail) train were derailed at the corner of Dupont Street and Howland Avenue on Aug. 24, 2017 –– almost a year after a train derailment at nearly that exact spot resulted in two CP Rail trains colliding and spilling fuel around the neighbourhood. Meanwhile, the City of Toronto and developers are embroiled in a dispute over how to develop the land around the tracks. 

There are currently eight proposed applications for residential development that nearly encompass the area, according to a risk assessment and management study by Hatch Mott MacDonald.

“The [local residents] want the city to be taking measures or putting measures in place that will respond to safety concerns of the potential for a train derailment on this stretch of the CP line,” said Barry Brooks, senior planner, City of Toronto, Community Planning Division.

Although there were no reports issued on the latest train derailment at press time, residents of the Annex have a better understanding of what happened in August 2016.

A report by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, released on Aug. 1, 2017, labelled the 2016 incident as a “human error.” It acknowledges sleep deprivation for the engineer and conductor as well as the conductor’s unfamiliarity with the track. It also addresses the need to update technology to ensure stop signals are followed.

According to the report, a CP Rail train transporting diesel fuel left the Scarborough yard at 5 a.m. The crew consisted of a locomotive engineer and a conductor.

The engineer only had a few hours of sleep the night before, and the conductor had been sleeping in his car for the past few days while looking for accommodations in Toronto. Concerns were also raised about whether the conductor was familiar enough with the neighbourhood’s track, given his irregular employment history with CP Rail.

Everything seemed to be going relatively smoothly until they received a call warning them of a potential trespasser on the tracks near Howland Avenue. They continued maintaining speed while keeping an eye out for that trespasser. Approximately 15 minutes from departure, while travelling around 46 miles per hour on a right-hand turn, they missed a warning signal to stop. This particular warning signal is known to have a short sightline of only around 860 feet.

Shortly after, the engineer of CP Rail Train 235 observed Train 118 heading eastbound, coming from the Leaside and Rosedale area, and spotted the subsequent stoplight they were approaching. The engineer immediately hit the emergency brake to no avail. Train 235 clipped the tail end of train 118 on the crossover track, causing a derailment and spilling 2,500 litres of diesel fuel near Howland Avenue, just off Dupont Street. 

“This has nothing to do with anti-development. It’s a question of appropriate development.”

A couple years prior to the Dupont derailment, the City of Toronto had commissioned a report titled Dupont Street Regeneration Area Study (DSRAS). The report, effective August 2014 and later incorporated into the city’s official plan, outlines taking precautionary measures when it comes to the development of Dupont Street, as well as safety measures related to the nearby train tracks. The guidelines are as follows: buildings can be no more than nine storeys in height and must have mixed residential and commercial use. They can be no less than 20 to 30 metres from the railway track and must have a 2.5-metre-high berm with a noise wall.

One proposal, submitted by Bianca Condos by Tridel, is for a nine-storey mixed-use condo on 420 Dupont St. Jim Ritchie, executive VP of sales and marketing at Tridel, said he supports the city’s design criteria, particularly the use of green space and multi-purpose buildings.

“It’s a great part of the city, and we wanted to be a part of that redevelopment,” Ritchie said. He added, “The railway has been there an awful long time, and it has operated, for the most part, reasonably well. We have to take certain precautions, which we are absolutely doing, but we are very happy to be developing in this location.”

Not all developers are on board with these precautions. According to a request for action report prepared by city staff, dated March 2017, the land purchased on 344–358 Dupont St. doesn’t have enough green space for the 20-metre setback. The developer, Freed Developments, tried to negotiate alternatives with Toronto City Council, such as installing a crash wall, but ultimately reached an impasse. Freed Developments has also proposed the building to be 19 storeys high.

“It does not represent good planning and is not in the public interest, and for these reasons City Council should direct the City Solicitor and appropriate City staff to attend the Ontario Municipal Board in opposition to the proposal,” a staff report from the City of Toronto reads.

Freed Developments did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

“The reality is, the railway has been there for 100 years. The municipalities encroach closer and closer to the rail line,” co-chair of the Annex Residents’ Association Henry Wiercinski said. “This has nothing to do with anti-development. It’s a question of appropriate development, and Freed’s thing at 19 storeys is just completely over the top.”

The DSRAS notes that developers have a “civic responsibility” to meet the needs of the general public, which means adhering to both the safety and design guidelines, according to Brooks. The Ontario Municipal Board is expected to rule on Freed Developments’ proposal by September.

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