A RULING by the Supreme Court of Canada on January 28 could have a serious impact on the ability of rail to service industry over tracks laid in public highways, common in North America.

Murray Ryan was badly injured in 1987, when the wheel of his motorcycle dropped into the flangeway of track laid 80 years earlier in Shore Street, Victoria, by the Esquimalt & Nanaimo Railway. The trial judge found for Ryan, but his decision was overturned by the British Columbia Supreme Court, citing a law barring railway companies from being found negligent if they had complied with existing statutes. This was introduced when Canada was desperate to attract capital for railway construction.

The national Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that ’the special status enjoyed by railway companies under the law of negligence can no longer be justified in principle.’ As flangeways wide enough to trap a tyre are unavoidable on tracks running parallel or at a fine angle to the flow of road traffic, a few more plaintiffs like Ryan could force the railways to pave over their street tracks and hand the business over to the roads.