Decision to spike rail relocation study short-sighted: proponents

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For more than 130 years, Winnipeggers have gone about their lives by going under, over and around the railways.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 09/09/2016 (2162 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For more than 130 years, Winnipeggers have gone about their lives by going under, over and around the railways.

And Canadian Pacific said that’s a reality Winnipeggers will have to continue to live with. After all, it was here first and is not going anywhere.

“Relocation of rail lines and yards is a complex, costly and serious issue,” CP spokeswoman Salem Woodrow said Friday. “When CP first began its operations, Canada was relatively unpopulated. While much has changed in 130 years, we remain committed to safe operations and working closely with communities.”

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

On Thursday, the Pallister government spiked the then-NDP government initiative to form a task force to examine the feasibility of moving rail lines out of Winnipeg. The $400,000 study was to be led by former Quebec premier Jean Charest.

The Railway Association of Canada, the business lobby group for both CP and Canadian National, says the industry supports the status quo and that the debate is an internal one.

“This is a concern between the current and former governments,” said spokesman Alex Patterson.

Proponents of relocation said Pallister’s decision is short-sighted.

“Other cities have moved rail lines. . . there’s no reason Winnipeg can’t do it, too,” said Robert-Falcon Ouellette, the Liberal MP for Winnipeg Centre whose riding runs along the boundary for the CP inner-city railyards.

The cost of future infrastructure projects, including replacing Arlington Bridge and the Waverley underpass, to go around the tracks is now pegged at $1.5 billion, said Brent Bellamy, senior design architect with Number Ten Architectural Group and a member of CentreVenture, the city’s downtown development agency.

At some point all parties — including the rail companies — have to examine what is the best way economically to continue to operate, he said.

“If you look at a map of the city, you’ll see there’s not just one rail yard,” Bellamy said. “There’s several and there’s rail lines criss-crossing the city and it’s only prudent, if we’re going to make decisions with all the information, that we study the thing that has such a massive impact in our city.

“If spending money wisely is the government’s mandate and everyone wants that to be the mandate wouldn’t the government want to plan for the most prudent way forward? I don’t understand how it’s not,” Bellamy said.

Barry Prentice, a professor with the Transportation Institute at the University of Manitoba, said railways are probably as safe as they’re ever going to be, but he supports relocation.

He wasn’t surprised by Pallister’s decision but is concerned “the can’s probably been kicked down the road” and left for another government to take up again.

“The former government had a reputation for making unfunded promises and this was another one,” said Prentice. “I don’t believe they ever intended to do it.

“The current government is focused on getting our financial house in order and getting our credit rating back and I can see why they’re being prudent.”

Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona), whose ward includes CN’s massive Symington Yard, also wants the rail lines moved.

It will take political will to craft an exit with all three levels of government and the railways. He’s seen no sign of that happening with the current mayor, he said in a statement.

“We have only heard words from Mayor Bowman, but no policy on this to back up his words,” Wyatt said.

The mayor declined comment, pressed by a busy schedule, his spokesman said.

A spokesman for the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce said it position remains unchanged.

Chamber president Loren Remillard said in an earlier interview with the Free Press that the city owes its existence to the railways and that there is an “awareness disconnect” between residents and the benefits rail bring to Winnipeg.

alexandra.paul@freepress.mb.ca

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