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