Rails with trails, smart: rails to trails, not so much

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by admin on June 18, 2014

by Joseph Potvin

Mobility Ottawa-Outaouais: Systems and Enterprises Inc. (Moose Inc.) is organizing a consortium to finance and operate passenger rail service along 400 km of existing railway tracks in the Greater National Capital Region. No public sector jurisdiction has both the mandate and budget for integrated transit spanning these locations. There is no other plan under development by any other entity for the financing and operation of whole-region transit integration across all the municipal and intercity systems.

The consortium’s rail service would be organized and financed by the private sector without a nickel from government. Moose Inc. has been working methodically through the financial, engineering, legal, and public interest aspects of its plan with diverse stakeholders, including mayors, councils, chambers of commerce, transportation professionals, and the CCFO. It supports a cycling/skiing/pedestrian trail alongside the railway, and has plans in the works to pay for its construction and maintenance. The project could accommodate a steam train for the tourist market if there’s demand.

There is no public interest justification for Friends of the Steam Train’s opposition to both trails and passenger rail service.

Rather than benefiting from the Rails-WITH-Trails concept detailed in the Municipality of Chelsea’s 2002 feasibility study, Sentier Chelsea Trails (SCT) is lobbying to place these two environmentally sound options into conflict by destroying the railway track in order to construct a trail. SCT has not mentioned that Rails-TO-Trails conversions cost at least $150,000 per km to construct, and $1,000 per kilometre per year to maintain. The costs of bank stabilization in leda clay and costs for landscaping to protect residents’ privacy must be added to this. SCT neglects the real economic ‘opportunity cost’. Its trail concept would pre-empt all future potential for the restoration of ecologically sustainable passenger railway service between the Gatineau Hills and the National Capital Region.

Rails-TO-Trails would result in a loss of the capital account (the infrastructure and equipment that can be used to create goods and services). The capital account of the Outaouais represents the value of all the useful public infrastructure in the area. One way to estimate capital value is replacement cost. In today’s dollars, it would cost at least $1 billion to build a railway between Gatineau and Wakefield.

Imagine what hourly passenger rail service could do for local businesses and families, the environment, and our quality of life. To remove the existing railway and replace it with a recreational path would result in a profound net loss to the future economy of the Outaouais.

If residents want a trail in the corridor, stakeholders should be working together with an inclusive and balanced approach.

We welcome businesses, public sector officials, and community groups to explore all of the sustainable, reliable, and affordable transportation options available to our region. Who would like to host an open neutral public discussion?

Joseph Potvin is President and General Manager of Moose Inc. www.letsgomoose.com

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Philip Jago June 19, 2014 at 9:19 pm

Good observations about the cost of converting the rail line to Wakefield to a recreational trail. A way has to be found to sort out the true cost of repairing the washed out track bed from 3-years ago. It is ironic that the incident of 3-years ago caused such a halt in service when these concerns were not voiced so stridently when repairs were made to a portion of the Mile Hill during 2008/09. It should be noted that the repairs of 08/09 came through the flooding 100% intact. It should also be noted that a lot of the damage to the track is due to the rush of water down the hill at too great a rate for the ditches and culverts to accommodate it. (We are talking about a 1 in 200-year phenomenon). Aside from a minor land slip that needs to be removed using traditional means, there is really only one serious spot that would call for driving some kind of piles and that is where the track was washed out as it hugs the edge of a ravine near the top of the Mile Hill. §urely, we are not talking about permanently shutting down the whole railroad for the likes of two-to three rail lenghts (about 100 feet) of washed out rail. We need to get serious about this and come up with an appropriate solution.

avatar Philip Jago June 23, 2014 at 8:25 pm

This is my vote for the restoration of tourist train service between Gatineau (Hull Sector) and Wakefield. Since 1992, this service has brought a much-needed economic stimulus to the region in terms of creating direct jobs (approximately 100 full and part time ones) and indirect (the amount of money left behind by 50,000 passengers on annual basis that finds its way into the cash registers of hotels, motels, restaurants, bars, bistros, assorted merchandise stores, and the suppliers of such essential products to run a railroad as fuel, lubricants, supplies, etc who are in the region. The media has picked up on a figure of $50 million to stabilize a piece of land that seems to grow in size with every new report. To repair the damage of 3-years ago involves the filling in of several washouts and the removal of one land slip, all located along a one-mile section of track, the rest of the railroad is intact. Of the several washouts on that hill, traditional railway means can be used to restore most of the track bed. There is only one spot that seems to pose an engineering challenge and that is near the top of the Mile Hill but surely that challenge can be overcome.

It is curious how rainfall problems in 2011 have shut down a very viable operation while a couple of years earlier, there was no great hesitation in committing to repair work for a different portion of the Mile Hill, then the real problem seemed to be governance of the operation.

The geology cannot have become that bad in such a short span of time. Indeed, the repairs from 2009 are totally intact, indicative of the quality of work that was undertaken. At a minimum, it will take between $6 and $7 million to repair the Mile Hill, maybe less if innovative ways can be found to source materials. The required work should not take that long to carry out. If the rehabilitation took place this summer, Wakefield would be welcoming the steam train in 2015.

En voiture!

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