Rail crossings could one day be just a bad memory

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Mayor Jeff Genung attended the Rotary Club of Cochrane’s weekly lunch meeting on Tuesday focusing on the work council is doing to improve all facets of connectivity in town. Included in that message was an idea that could drastically change the face of community railway crossings.

For more than a year, the town has been working toward developing a grade separated crossing at Horse Creek, but at a cost of $32 million, buy in from CP Rail is a must. Now, a growing relationship between the rail operator and the town might mean redevelopment of the entire crossing system.

Genung said a recent meeting, while without commitment, indicated CP Rail is beginning to see the benefits of revamping all three Cochrane crossings.

When discussing the Horse Creek Crossing, Genung said a CP representative told him to think bigger.

“He said, ‘Why not do every crossing in Cochrane at the same time, we’ll help you pay for it,”‘ Genung told the crowd of Rotarians.

Qualifying the statement, Genung added that CP Rail is a primary director of a $2 billion federal infrastructure grant that could be used to help the town construct separated grade crossings right through town.

“Cochrane is becoming the poster child of communities having problems with trains,” Genung said, pointing to the three fatalities on the tracks in the past two years. The town is also a siding community for CP rail, meaning it is a place where trains pull off to allow other trains to pass.

However, train lengths in the past few years have grown exponentially and the Cochrane sidings are no longer of adequate length. Genung said that means it would make sense for CP to build separated grade crossings, which would allow the train to pass through town unfettered and to pause for other trains without blocking traffic.

Eliminating train crossings wasn’t Genung’s only message for improving connectivity in terms of traffic.
He spoke at length about infrastructure plans in the community and illuminated portions of the town’s 10-year $293 million capital plan, which includes everything from the $48 million bridge over the river being constructed near the sports centre to road enhancements to help alleviate traffic congestion.

While the province drags its feet on twinning Highway 1A, Genung says he is working toward interim solutions that could help improve traffic flow coming down Cochrane Hill and through town.

One idea is a traffic circle at Centre Avenue, which Genung sees as more than an infrastructure project, but also one of public image.

“At the end of the hill coming into town is a set of lights. It sends the wrong message to people coming into Cochrane that the first thing you do is stop,” the mayor said.

Ultimately, he said the goal is to remove both sets of lights on Highway 1A and replace them with traffic circles to keep vehicles moving.

Traffic aside, Genung also spoke heavily about enhancing community connections through an improved town philosophy focusing on public engagement.

Whether it is via social media, the new Let’s Talk Cochrane web portal, councillors attending more community events or the push toward streaming council meetings, Genung said there has been a greater focus on communication.

Genung added that mindset is not exclusive to council and as mayor he has emphasized it for town staff as well, which he believes has improved employee morale and has encouraged staffers to work more cohesively.

“I have encouraged them to dream big and not do things as they usually do,” said Genung, who added he wants the town to operate on the same principles that he has tried to impart to the graduating classes he has spoken to in recent weeks.

“Be positive, be healthy and leave a legacy,” he said, highlighting values he says he strives to live by.

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Chris Puglia

Chris is a SAIT-trained journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He began his career in central Alberta working in Olds and Carstairs. After four years at Newspapers in Alberta, he headed north to Yellowknife and spent 12 years working in both the Northwest Territories and Nunavut. In 2014, he returned to Alberta and began working for Great West Newspapers at the St. Albert Gazette before taking the editorial helm of the Cochrane Eagle in 2016. Chris welcomes feedback from the public - good or bad - and encourages readers to contact him with concerns or story ideas.