Approval to construct a railway line

Who does this apply to?

If a federal railway company intends to construct a railway line, it must file an application with the Agency under section 98 of the Canada Transportation Act for approval. This includes main lines, branch lines, yard tracks, sidings, spurs or other track auxiliary to a railway line.

No approval is needed to construct a railway line:

  • within the right-of-way of an existing railway line, or 
  • within 100 metres of the centre line of an existing railway line for a distance of no more than three kilometres.

How does the process work?

The Agency may grant the approval if it considers that the location of the line is reasonable, taking into consideration:

  1. the requirements for railway operations and services; and
  2. the interests of localities that will be affected by the line.

The railway company is responsible for demonstrating to the Agency that the requirements of section 98 of the Canada Transportation Act are met.

Interests of localities

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012 (CEAA 2012) came into force on July 6, 2012, replacing the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act and removing the requirement for an environmental assessment for certain railway line construction projects. 

Following the legislative changes, railway companies were consulted regarding the Agency’s proposed approach to applications under section 98 of the CTA, resulting in an understanding that railway companies remain responsible for demonstrating to the Agency that the requirements of that provision are met, whether an environmental assessment is required or not.

The Agency adopted the following approach, indicating that railway companies will:

  • undertake consultations with the localities with a view to developing collaborative measures to address the relevant issues raised;
  • consult with municipalities, adjacent landowners and Aboriginal groups, when and as applicable;
  • provide information to allow an adequate understanding of the project and to ensure that consultations are meaningful;
  • provide the Agency with a detailed account of these consultations and any agreements put in place to address objections that may have been raised; and
  • identify issues where no agreement was reached and that must be dealt with by the Agency.

Construction projects subject to the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act, 2012

The Canadian Environmental Assessment Agency may initiate an environmental assessment pursuant to CEAA 2012.

The Agency can only then proceed with approval under Section 98:

  1. once an environmental assessment has been conducted; and
  2. if it has been determined that the project will not cause significant adverse environmental effects.

For more information, see the Overview of the Canadian Environmental Assessment 2012.

The Regulations Designating Physical Activities set out which projects are subject to an environmental assessment under CEAA 2012, including: 

  • railway projects in a wildlife area or migratory bird sanctuary;
  • railway lines longer than 32 km;
  • railway yards with seven or more yard tracks or a total of 20 km or more;
  • railway lines designed for trains that have an average speed of 200 km/h;
  • international or interprovincial bridges or tunnels.

Providing notice about the proposed line

When a railway company wants to construct a railway line covered by the Act, it must properly notify all parties who may be affected by or have an interest in the proposed line, so that they can have the opportunity to make a submission to the Agency regarding the proposed line.

Such notification may include direct notice to affected landowners, communities and others, as well as public notices in local newspapers.

Applicants should contact Agency staff to determine the specific notice requirements for the proposed line.

How to file an application with the Agency

Include the following information in the application:

  1. the following project details:
    1. the right-of-way of the proposed railway line,
    2. the property lines and names of the owners of the land that the railway line will cross,
    3. all proposed road, utility and private crossings,
    4. all open drains, watercourses, road allowances (rights-of-way) and railways that the railway line may cross or affect,
    5. the approximate location and alignment of the track, and
    6. the profile of the proposed line;
  2. a map showing the general location of the proposed railway line and accurately indicating the beginning and end of the line, and the localities that the potential construction would affect;
  3. the purpose of the project, when it is not clear;
  4. two copies of a plan or drawing, prepared to scale and appropriately dated and signed;
  5. any other pertinent information, including:
    1. any environmental assessment of the project required pursuant to CEAA 2012;
    2. the results of consultation with interested parties.

A written, signed agreement may be submitted to the Agency Secretariat.

In addition, you should send a copy of the application to each of the parties involved.

Safety requirements

Authority to construct a railway line under the Act does not relieve the parties of their obligations under the Railway Safety Act. Learn more about rail safety requirements.

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