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Premier refuses to commit to rail-relocation task force

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS </p><p>Premier Brian Pallister refused Tuesday to commit to continuing with plans for the $400,000 task force announced by the Selinger government in January.</p>

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Premier Brian Pallister refused Tuesday to commit to continuing with plans for the $400,000 task force announced by the Selinger government in January.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/6/2016 (959 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A planned task force charged with examining the relocation of city rail lines could be derailed by the Pallister government.

Premier Brian Pallister refused Tuesday to commit to continuing with plans for the $400,000 task force announced by the Selinger government in January. He dodged directly answering whether the task force had a future, instead accusing the NDP of saying yes to every project in the run-up to the April 19 provincial election.

“I think it is a great idea. It has been a great idea for 40 years and the NDP did nothing about it in their entire 17-year term — now they’re telling me to get Johnny-on-the-spot and take care of a problem they ignored for decades?” Pallister said when asked about the task force’s future Tuesday after question period.

The task force was to be led by former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was to assemble the group and work on the feasibility study that will calculate the cost of moving the lines and yards. A request for comment to Charest was not returned.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 7/6/2016 (959 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A planned task force charged with examining the relocation of city rail lines could be derailed by the Pallister government.

Premier Brian Pallister refused Tuesday to commit to continuing with plans for the $400,000 task force announced by the Selinger government in January. He dodged directly answering whether the task force had a future, instead accusing the NDP of saying yes to every project in the run-up to the April 19 provincial election.

"I think it is a great idea. It has been a great idea for 40 years and the NDP did nothing about it in their entire 17-year term — now they’re telling me to get Johnny-on-the-spot and take care of a problem they ignored for decades?" Pallister said when asked about the task force’s future Tuesday after question period.

The task force was to be led by former Quebec premier Jean Charest, who was to assemble the group and work on the feasibility study that will calculate the cost of moving the lines and yards. A request for comment to Charest was not returned.

The funds for the task force were approved by the treasury board prior to the election, but Pallister said "the (Selinger) government has approved a lot of stuff that they shouldn’t have."

Nahanni Fontaine’s St. Johns riding is a couple kilometres north of the Arlington Bridge — a 104-year-old structure nearing the end of its 2020 lifespan — which crosses the CPR Winnipeg Yards. It is expected to cost hundreds of millions to replace. By relocating the rail yard, the New Democrat MLA argues removing the rail lines can help unite the city.

She pushed for Pallister to move ahead with the planned task force.

"The rail lines have fundamentally — in so many different ways — divided the city," she said. "It is literally this physical barrier between the north and the south and in 2016 we need to be courageous and visionary."

The announcement of the task force made good on a promise made by former premier Greg Selinger in his fall throne speech to move rail lines out of Winnipeg. The group would also look into the savings that could be made by avoiding the construction of overpasses and other grade separations and the value of new development on the former rail lands.

During the January announcement, Selinger said the task force would determine what lines would be easier to move in the short term, such as BNSF’s tracks through River Heights and the West End or the CPR’s Winnipeg Beach line through the North End. Both CN and CP Rail have been publicly lukewarm to the idea, frequently citing costs and complexity when asked about the topic. The cost is unknown, but could cost billions depending on how many rail lines are moved.

CP has maintained if a community would like to conduct a study into moving certain rail lines out of their city, it "may participate."

"However, relocation of rail lines and yards is a complex and serious issue that would involve CP, local and national customers, regulators, local community organizations and all levels of government," said a statement on the company’s website.

The task force is just one of many projects promised under the Selinger regime that Pallister has refused to commit to following through on.

"There isn’t a single project or idea that the NDP said no to in the last year in the lead up to the election. They tried to elevate the hopes of everybody on every single idea that is out there," Pallister said. "You say yes to all these projects, then you’re going to have to start saying no to some serious requests for real and important things next year."

St. Boniface Coun. Matt Allard was supposed to play a role on the task force, but said it has yet to be assembled. He remains optimistic it could still happen.

"I’m looking forward to working with the new government, considering it is really important for Winnipeg," Allard said. "I haven’t been told whether it will be continuing."

kristin.annable@freepress.mb.ca

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