July 15, 2019

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Convert rail lines into LRT: Ouellette

Candidate envisions city's transformation

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2014 (1773 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They cause traffic jams and huge bills for new underpasses, and now a mayoral candidate says the rail lines that splice the city should be moved to make way for a light-rail transit system.

In a campaign week dominated by another round of rapid-transit wrangling, Robert-Falcon Ouellette offered the boldest plan yet -- to move the rail lines that criss-cross the city and use the hundreds of kilometres of track as a ready-made LRT system serving Transcona, St. Norbert, St. Vital, the airport and several other suburbs.

"LRT is an expensive option, but only when you need to buy new land, tear down people's property, expropriate and lay new track," said Ouellette. "Imagine for a moment what a different city we would have. Imagine a Winnipeg where we can get to a morning class at the U of M by rail from anywhere in the city, a Winnipeg where you can take your kids to a Bombers game or a concert at the stadium by rail and bus without having to worry about parking or driving home."

Ouellette said moving the rail yards and lines would untangle the knot of tracks and traffic that has stymied city planning for years and make transportation more efficient. It would also remove the need for multimillion-dollar projects such as the Waverley Street underpass and the new Arlington bridge, pegged at roughly $75 million.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/9/2014 (1773 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

They cause traffic jams and huge bills for new underpasses, and now a mayoral candidate says the rail lines that splice the city should be moved to make way for a light-rail transit system.

In a campaign week dominated by another round of rapid-transit wrangling, Robert-Falcon Ouellette offered the boldest plan yet — to move the rail lines that criss-cross the city and use the hundreds of kilometres of track as a ready-made LRT system serving Transcona, St. Norbert, St. Vital, the airport and several other suburbs.

"LRT is an expensive option, but only when you need to buy new land, tear down people's property, expropriate and lay new track," said Ouellette. "Imagine for a moment what a different city we would have. Imagine a Winnipeg where we can get to a morning class at the U of M by rail from anywhere in the city, a Winnipeg where you can take your kids to a Bombers game or a concert at the stadium by rail and bus without having to worry about parking or driving home."

Ouellette said moving the rail yards and lines would untangle the knot of tracks and traffic that has stymied city planning for years and make transportation more efficient. It would also remove the need for multimillion-dollar projects such as the Waverley Street underpass and the new Arlington bridge, pegged at roughly $75 million.

And relocating the rail lines would eliminate the risk of an explosion such as the one that levelled the centre of Lac-Mégantic, Que., last year.

The moves would mean again cancelling tenuous plans for the Southwest Bus Rapid Transit Corridor and starting what are sure to be years-long and costly negotiations with Ottawa and the city's two major rail companies.

Ouellette said no real estimates exist on the cost of moving three rail yards — two in Transcona and one in the North End — and six main and spur lines.

Legislation obliges Ottawa to pay for half the cost of rail relocation as has occurred in Edmonton, Calgary, Montreal and other cities in recent decades.

But the Canadian National Railway and the Canadian Pacific Railway have traditionally shot down any relocation trial balloons. CP Rail did so again Friday. A spokeswoman said the company was in no position to respond to a proposal by a candidate for mayor.

Mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette makes his transit  announcement near the Jubilee Station.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Mayoral candidate Robert-Falcon Ouellette makes his transit announcement near the Jubilee Station.

"We do not have any plans to relocate our yards or any portion of it at this time. It (the rail yard) plays a strategic and critical role. It's a major yard for our operations," said Salem Woodrow, from the CPR headquarters in Calgary.

Ouellette said out-of-town rail lines could connect better with CentrePort and will save the companies money and time lost when cars crawl through the city. And the chance to get Ottawa to chip in for state-of-the-art facilities will be enticing.

"Obviously, the railroads will want a deal," he said. "They'll negotiate pretty hard."

Building new tracks for the rail companies would cost between $1.3 million and $2 million per kilometre, said Ouellette, but it's not clear how many new kilometres might be needed to bypass the city.

If it's in the billions, so is Winnipeg's current plan for six BRT corridors. Completing the corridor to the University of Manitoba, along with improvements to the Jubilee underpass, will cost $600 million alone.

Winnipeg NDP MP Pat Martin, who has long advocated for the elimination of the downtown rail yards, was quick to praise Ouellette's initiative.

"Hallelujah," Martin told the Free Press. "A mayoral candidate with something new to say."

Martin believes the land could be appropriated for inner-city housing or recreation space and "it would lend itself perfectly for light-rail transit."

"Too many people have it on their too-hard-to-do list," the MP added. "That's the kind of expansive vision we can expect from someone who wants to lead the city. It can be done."

Brian Bowman, the only other candidate who has so far offered up the bones of a long-term plan for rapid transit, said he is intrigued by the notion of moving the rail yards but changing course now would involve more delays. And he said convincing the rail companies to play ball may be unrealistic.

Bowman has pledged to complete all legs of rapid transit by 2030, and favours BRT over LRT because bus corridors have been shown to spark the most transit-oriented, dense development.

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Randy Turner

Randy Turner
Reporter

Randy Turner spent much of his journalistic career on the road. A lot of roads. Dirt roads, snow-packed roads, U.S. interstates and foreign highways. In other words, he got a lot of kilometres on the odometer, if you know what we mean.

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