A fence goes up… again

Ogilvy and De Castelnau passageway once again blocked, causing frustration among residents.

Many residents were greeted by a newly erected fence on Friday, separating the districts of Villeray and Park Extension. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

A fence was yet again erected at the passageway between Ogilvy and DeCastelnau last Thursday, blocking residents from both sides from crossing the tracks, frustrating many.

The passageway, which crosses over the train tracks at the Parc Exo station, allows Park Extension residents to reach Jarry Park and shops in Villeray and lets Villeray residents access the train and Metro stations. 

The crossing has been at the center of longstanding legal battles between the city and Canadian Pacific, the owners of the tracks. The issue was ruled upon in 2019 by the Canadian Transport Agency in favour of the City of Montreal and is set for completion in September. 

The new fence acts as yet another physical barrier around Park Extension, further contributing to the neighbourhoods’ isolation caused by large arteries and adjacent train lines. 

The decision was taken by EXO to ensure the safety of residents and clients who had been using the crossing to cross the train tracks. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST

Residents frustrated

Residents from both sides of the track were visibly furious at the decision, which was taken unilaterally and with no prior warning by the metropolitan train operator Exo. Many took to social media to express their frustration.

While most were turned around at the fence and were forced to take the long detour along Jean-Talon street, others took matters into their own hands and scaled the barricade to get to the other side.

One of the disgruntled residents was Elizabeth Albert who lives close to the passage and uses it regularly. “There’s no real use, the train passes but the gates close so it isn’t necessarily about security,” said Albert, adding that many residents depended on it as a shortcut. 

“For someone who lives 100 metres away, it’s a really big detour,” added Albert of the accessibility to the EXO station, which she often uses to go to Saint-Jerome.

“It really penalizes Park Extension residents,” 

Easy solution

“This makes my blood boil,” said Mary Deros, city councillor for Park Extension, upon seeing the newly erected fence. She has worked on finalizing the footpath over the tracks for close to 15 years. 

Deros says that all that is missing to make the crossing safe is for the city center to pave the remaining section of the gravel path, only measuring about 4 by 8 feet. Note that this is not the jurisdiction of the borough of villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

“They can either remove this cement division, cut the fence and put asphalt,” said Deros, further commenting that “you don’t need a civil engineer to tell you how to do that.”

“It is so simple to unite two areas of the same district to be able to cross over safely,” she added in disappointment. 

Decision made in a vacuum

In a statement, Exo said that the fence was an issue between the city and the Canadian Pacific and had been installed to ensure the safety of citizens. When reached for comment, Canadian Pacific referred back to Exo. 

In a statement provided to CTV News, Youssef Amane, director of communications for Mayor Valérie Plante, said that Exo had made the decision in a “vaccum.”

“We are very surprised by this about-face from Exo,” said Amane, adding that they had done it “without notifying its partners.”

The same was also said by Mary Deros, by city councillor for Villeray Rosannie Filato and by the borough mayor Giuliana Fumagalli, who all called out via social media the lack of consultation by Exo on the decision.

Electoral issue

Initially, the completion of the footpath was meant to go forward in December 2020 but was later pushed back to September 2021. Deros feels that this delay by the city’s administration is for electoral reasons.  

“We have elections on Nov. 7, so they’re waiting, the city center is waiting,” said Deros, adding that she feels they intend to make it an electoral issue.

“We did this for you just before the elections,” said Deros on what she thought was the real intention for delaying the project, adding that it “doesn’t make sense.”

Nonetheless, the mayor Plante’s office stated that they intended to “ensure that this passage not only re-opens but also that it is laid out in a safe and universally accessible manner.”

Residents are those most penalized

Regardless of the political or logistical reasons behind the fence, citizens remain the ones bearing the brunt of an unpopular decision that will likely stay in place for the remainder of the summer.

“Park Extension is completely enclaved, it’s ridiculous,” said Liza Roy, a long-time Park Ex resident who was to turn around during her afternoon walk on Friday because of the fence. 

Why do we need to take a dangerous detour, go under a dangerous viaduct where cars pass at high speeds, just to go to Jean-Talon market. It would take 10 minutes through here,” she derided.

“It really penalizes Park Extension residents,” added Roy.

Note: The word “overpass” was used in a previous article on the Ogilvy/DeCastelnau crossing. This was a poor choice of wording as the path will remain a ground-level railroad crossing. 

A small section of gravel at the crossing is all that’s left to be paved in order to make the crossing safe. Photo: Matias Brunet-Kirk – NEWSFIRST