Province takes NDP’s rail-relocation study off the tracks

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OTTAWA — The Manitoba government has derailed a planned feasibility study on relocating some or all of the rail lines in Winnipeg outside of the city.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 08/09/2016 (2163 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — The Manitoba government has derailed a planned feasibility study on relocating some or all of the rail lines in Winnipeg outside of the city.

The decision was noted in a statement from the provincial government Thursday.

The $400,000 study was commissioned in January by the former NDP government, who hired former Quebec premier Jean Charest to lead it. But after being elected in the spring, Premier Brian Pallister said a number of decisions made by the NDP — including the rail study —were on hold pending a review.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES Municipal and Indigenous Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke said the rail relocation review was completed.

The review has been completed, Municipal and Indigenous Affairs Minister Eileen Clarke said.

“After 17 years in office, the previous NDP government announced a task force on rail relocation in the days before the pre-election blackout period,” she said. “Manitoba’s new government was elected on a mandate to fix the province’s finances, and therefore we will not be proceeding with the task force.”

Clarke said Charest was informed, adding the government hadn’t incurred any costs.

Winnipeg Liberal MP Dan Vandal was disappointed by the decision. Vandal has been an advocate for moving some of the rail lines within the city for many years and was to be the federal Liberal caucus representative from Manitoba involved with the task force.

Last week he called Pallister to urge him to get on with the study. And Thursday, a day after he went public with that push, the province pulled the plug.

“This issue is not going away for my constituents or for Winnipeg,” Vandal said. “I think there is opportunity for improvements to our transportation plan over the long term.”

The groundwork for the study was first cemented by the provincial government in the 2015 throne speech, when then-premier Greg Selinger pledged to work towards moving the lines out of the city.

St. Johns MLA Nahanni Fontaine, who has taken over the file for NDP, didn’t mince words Thursday in her reaction to the Pallister government’s decision, calling it “cowardly,” “shameful,” and “lacking in foresight.”

“We all know what those rail lines do — it divides our city,” she said. “We put a framework in place, with a live human being, to be able to guide these really critical discussions… and they have just cut it.”

Fontaine says it passes the issue of the rail lines running through the city “on to the next generation.” She was also critical of how the decision threw away an opportunity for the government to work with a national heavyweight such as Charest.

“It is disrespectful to Jean Charest to just dismiss the role that he could have played — a very critical role, a navigating role,” she said. “Pallister’s government is not even willing to engage in anything the NDP government had on the horizon.”

A federal review of the Transportation Act done by former Conservative cabinet minister David Emerson recommended Ottawa “support the relocation of rail infrastructure outside of dense urban centres” for both safety reasons and the benefit of city life.

Under the Rail Relocation and Crossing Act, federal funding may be made available for up to half the cost of a feasibility study or the actual relocation work, but only if Ottawa has set aside the money to contribute. Railways can be required to move their rail lines under the act, but only if there is no net cost to the railway.

At least one estimate pegs the cost of moving the rail lines from Winnipeg at $1 billion, but Vandal said without doing the feasibility study nobody really knows “what is doable and what isn’t.”

He said it’s all well and good for the province to plead poverty but a $400,000 study isn’t going to change the financial situation, and he noted there will be a lot of money spent on rail-related infrastructure with or without the study.

Construction of a $155-million underpass at Waverley Street and Taylor Avenue (the province and Ottawa are each contributing $45.9 million and Winnipeg is spending $63.3 million) is expected to begin early next year.

Studies are also underway for a $250-million project for an underpass and lane-widening at Marion and Archibald Streets.

mia.rabson@freepress.mb.ca

— with files from Kristin Annable

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