Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Accusations fly over rail line

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Tempers flared at a civic committee this week, when one councillor accused the administration of ignoring the concerns of residents, and the councillor was accused of needlessly "whipping up" public hysteria.

The issue at the public works committee Thursday was a proposal from Coun. Justin Swandel to prevent the relocation of a short stretch of CN Rail's Letellier line closer to a group of Waverley Heights homes to accommodate the construction of the second phase of the bus transit corridor.

Swandel (St. Norbert) said city officials had ignored the concerns of the affected residents -- he said the relocation of the rail line increased the safety risk to the residents.

"The residents are fearful for their lives," Swandel said. "They feel no one is listening to them... these people are scared."

Swandel's concerns caught Transit director Dave Wardrop by surprise. Wardrop said the relocation of the rail lines had been known since 2012; Wardrop said freezing the rail line would delay the transit project by at least a year for design changes and jeopardize a request for $150 million in federal funding for the project.

There are about 20 affected homeowners on Gull Lake Road, between Chancellor Drive and Markham Road. Wardrop said the rail line has to be moved closer to the residents to make room for the transit corridor. The rail line was originally going to be moved nine metres closer to the homes but new plans will only require the line to be moved 5.7 metres closer to the homes, he said.

Wardrop said the construction of a new rail bed will increase safety for the nearby residents, who he said would be no more at risk whether the lines were moved or not.

Coun. Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry) questioned Swandel's motives on the issue and said over the years his support for the rapid transit line has wavered.

"It's unfortunate that (the residents') fears are being whipped up," Gerbasi said.

Following the meeting, Gerbasi said councillors have a responsibility to provide accurate information to residents. Gerbasi said she was concerned some councillors, citing Swandel and Transcona's Russ Wyatt, were trying to kill a project council had approved.

Gerbasi said councillors need to advocate for their residents but said Swandel was ignoring the history on the bus corridor project.

"I'm not denying people feel afraid, but as leaders, part of our role is to bring the facts clearly and honestly to people," Gerbasi told reporters. "I don't want people to worry needlessly."

The committee took no action on Swandel's request but did instruct Transit to meet with individual residents.

aldo.santin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 19, 2014 A5

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