The citizens group that hopes to restart the Canadian Pacific Railway yard relocation study left Winnipeg city hall Thursday with a pat on the back, but no commitments of support.

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This article was published 15/3/2018 (1573 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The citizens group that hopes to restart the Canadian Pacific Railway yard relocation study left Winnipeg city hall Thursday with a pat on the back, but no commitments of support.

The group, formally known as the Rail Yard Relocation Project, said the goal is to persuade the three levels of government to support a feasibility study that will show the potential benefits of moving the CP yard, as well as the likely costs.

"We were hoping the city would be favourable towards the idea of a feasibility study," said Lloyd Axworthy, one of four people who met with Mayor Brian Bowman and Coun. John Orlikow.

The group includes some local heavy hitters among its members. In addition to Axworthy, a former foreign affairs minister and the past president of the University of Winnipeg, the list includes: Charles Huband, a retired judge of the Manitoba Court of Appeal; Point Douglas activist Sel Burrows; Arlene Jones, past president of the Council of Women of Winnipeg; architect Brent Bellamy; and retired senior CP officials.

The group believes removing the rail line from the centre of Winnipeg will create multiple opportunities for residential, commercial and recreational development on the 400-acre parcel of land and eliminate the need for the construction of costly bridges.

"We want a feasibility study to indicate to us what those possibilities would be and what the costs would be," Huband said after Thursday's meeting. "If we can get that far, I think there will be a demand on the part of the citizens of Winnipeg to say, ‘Let’s move forward with this.’"

The idea was recently in the spotlight in January 2016, when the former NDP provincial government appointed former Quebec premier Jean Charest to lead a task force to study the issue of rail relocation. The task force was dissolved later that year — before it even got started — by the incoming Progressive Conservative government.

Burrows said when he and Huband first met last year, as they worked to put the citizens group together, they believed the project had a 15- to 20-year time frame. He said he now believes it can be achieved within 10 years.

"Anyone with vision knows you don’t make decisions on big projects based on the present situation," Burrows said when acknowledging the Manitoba government’s austerity mode.

The Thursday meeting was positive, Burrows said, but he noted Bowman made it clear while he can see the benefits of the rail yard relocation, it’s not a project the city can tackle on its own.

Bowman later played down the significance of the meeting and told reporters the project isn't among city hall's infrastructure priorities, the most important of which is fixing roads. He said there are no future meetings with the group scheduled.

"Today was really just listening. I meet with many groups in my office every day," Bowman said, following a noon-time event marking the opening of the new Windsor Park Library. "This was a meeting to hear from some people who’ve done some really good work in the community, to give me their thoughts. That’s all that today was about. Our priorities for infrastructure remain unchanged."

However, Orlikow said he told the relocation advocates he's committed to working with them.

"I personally have committed to work with them to explore ideas, share the work the city has already done and to continue discussions," said the chairman of city council’s property and development committee.

The first hurdle is to get the three governments — municipal, provincial and federal — in agreement again and to launch the study, Burrows said. Physically relocating the rail yards and finding the money to get it done is a task several years down the road.

The group has met informally with federal officials and they were encouraging, said Burrows, adding the group still has to arrange formal meetings with the federal and provincial governments.

"Our function is to encourage (the three levels of government) to move forward on a long-range plan, rather than a short-range plan," Huband said, noting the feasibility study is the first step.

"The indications we are getting informally are very positive," Burrows said. "It’s a big project. There’s going to be a lot of difficulties along the way… Our job is to bring everybody to the table."

 with files from Ryan Thorpe