City of Vancouver launches another bid to stop rail operations on Arbutus Corridor

CP had indicated it would resume operations this summer


The City of Vancouver has renewed its ongoing effort to stop CP from resuming operations along the Arbutus Corridor railway track.

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In late June, CP announced it would begin storing train cars along the railway this summer. The city and CP remain far apart on what they feel is the value of the land.

Last Friday (Aug. 7) the City of Vancouver applied to the Canadian Transportation Agency for two orders dealing with the corridor.

The city argues that by abandoning rail operations in 2001, “CPR has fundamentally breached the Canadian Transportation Act, which outlines the mandatory steps required for discontinuing a railway. Under Section 145 of the Canadian Transportation Act, CPR was required to offer the corridor to governments for purchase at its net salvage value, which it did not do.”

Now it wants the CTA to order CPR to discontinue the railway and make an offer for its 2004 value.

The two orders the city applied for are:

  • An order that would have the effect of cancelling CPR’s April 14, 2014 amendment of its three-year plan, where they removed the Arbutus Corridor from the list of lines they intended to discontinue; and
  • An order requiring CPR to make an offer for the corridor at the 2004 net salvage value, which was the year in which the CTA mandated CPR to make an offer, something which CPR did not do.

City manager Penny Ballem told the Courier Wednesday that it’s not clear what the CTA’s turnaround time will be on the city’s application, but she expects it will be considering it in the coming weeks. In the meantime, CP can move forward with its plan to resume operations unless the CTA or Transport Canada, for other reasons, takes action to prevent it.

“We now know that on a verbal basis from Transport Canada that [CP have] been given the authority to proceed at any point and time,” Ballem said. “They told Transport Canada they would provide to them 48-hours notice, so I think that will be the range of notice that we’ll get.”

The city maintains there isn’t a strong business case for CP to operate along Arbutus Corridor.

“But I think at this point and time it looks like that’s going to happen, so we chose to take action now,” Ballem said about the timing of the application to the CTA, while refraining from calling it a last-ditch effort.

“I would say we’ve looked a lot of the technical and strategic ways that we can make progress here and it’s not a last-ditch effort but it’s certainly a technical opportunity for us to go to the agency with statutory jurisdiction to say, ‘OK, something happened here in the process of all this history that we want you to look at that could make a difference in terms of whether CP carries on operating on this line.’”

Ballem said the city will continue to look at other options if the CTA doesn’t decide in its favour.

“We want to look at all of our options — there’s legal options, there’s strategic options. But the bottom line is the city is very, very clear that it exists right now as a transportation corridor in the middle of our city and the long-term plans for it is to remain exactly that. At this point it’s accessible to our public and used on a regular basis and we really are clear in our long-term goal. We’re trying to really respectfully get to will there be a transfer of the asset under the rules that have been laid out in the federal legislation.”

CP spokesman Martin Cej said CP is reviewing the application and that there is no date yet for the resumption of operations.

“The City of Vancouver has zoned the CP-owned Arbutus Corridor expressly for transportation and we’ve been working very hard in the last few months to return the corridor to operational standards,” he said. “CP has discussed several options with the City of Vancouver in the last few years for the future of Arbutus Corridor. Some of those options would result in the city taking ownership of the corridor without any cost to taxpayers. All of our proposed options have been refused, so we continue to work with Transport Canada to be sure of the safe resumption of service.”

But the city maintains there are safety risks if CP does resume rail operations, citing deteriorated rail infrastructure, 50 public crossings at grade — 18 of which have outdated crossing lights and signals, lack of fencing along the corridor, and 15 years of extensive public use without any risk of rail operations.

Jerry Dobrovolny, the acting general manager of engineering services, said the city’s doesn’t have enough information to be assured all the city’s safety concerns have been addressed, such as how crossings at major intersections like at West 41st and 49th will be handled.

Dobrovolny said if the city or a utility was doing construction work, a complex traffic management plan would be required, which included how vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists would move through the intersection.

“That’s simply what we asked for — to show us the traffic management plan about how they’ll actually move trains through these busy, large intersections at various times of the day,” he said. “We also have concerns about the impacts on traffic flow, what kind of queues that it could create, and what the consequences are in terms of people shortcutting and using other routes. They are pretty straight-forward questions that we’re hoping to see answers on before trains start to travel.”

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