The ground is literally in place for CentrePort Canada to proceed with the development of a common-use rail facility.
The province has transferred 302 hectares of land to CentrePort for it to develop a rail facility as well as an adjacent industrial park that would be designed specifically to service rail-intensive businesses.
The rail facility that all three of the main railroads will have access to is still at the conceptual stage, but Diane Gray, CEO of CentrePort Canada, said functional designs have been shared with all three of the Class 1 railroads involved -- CP, CN and BNSF (Burlington Northern Sante Fe).
"We are actually very optimistic right now," she said. "Things are moving quite well."
The province had acquired the land from Canadian Pacific for about $6.5 million. The largest piece of the parcel is just south of Canadian Pacific Railroad's main line and west of CentrePort Canada Way, the new expressway that is nearing completion.
CentrePort will pay the province for the land over time by deriving revenue from the operation of the rail facility as well as through the sale and development of the land.
Infrastructure and Transportation Minister Steve Ashton said since CentrePort's stated intention is to operate an inland port that offers tri-modal facilities -- road, air and rail-cargo -- moving development of the rail facility forward is crucial for the inland port.
"This is a multi-modal operation. Rail is key," Ashton said. "This allows CentrePort to move to the next step."
Gray said from the beginning it was understood the critical piece of infrastructure that would really differentiate CentrePort from other developments was the construction of a common-use rail facility.
But even before the rail facility gets any kind of go-ahead, there will have to be an anchor tenant in place.
Gray said CentrePort is currently having simultaneous discussions with the railroads as well as potential tenants for the rail-intensive industrial park.
And while she said she hopes the development is two to three years away, it will depend on the schedule and commitment of potential new tenants.
"This is not a 'build it and they will come' concept," she said. "That time line will be tied to securing business for the facility."
There is a lot riding on the success of the rail facility.
To some extent, the new, $212 million highway that is nearing completion and the rail facility will each feed traffic to the other.
But there are a lot of balls still in the air.
A model for the common-use facility that will be acceptable to the railroads is still being developed.
Gray reiterated the fact CentrePort is not itself a land developer or a business operator.