November 15, 2013 - 1:00 PM
VERNON - The concept of preserving a transportation corridor on the railway tracks between Vernon and Kelowna is picking up steam.
The District of Coldstream is looking at options to keep the line—which shut down in July and hasn’t reopened—intact for transportation, even if the mode isn’t rail.
“Our first priority is to see if we can keep it as a rail line,” Coldstream mayor Jim Garlick says. “If not our second idea is a transportation corridor for the future.”
After Kelowna Pacific Railway went bankrupt in July, Canadian National picked up operation of 75 per cent of the network. The condition of the track between Vernon and Kelowna was poor, and CN felt it couldn’t justify repairs. That’s led to backlash from Okanagan businesses who shipped large portions of their product by freight. Ashland Chemicals plant manager Kelly Brown is hoping a third party will come forward to operate the line, but so far, there haven’t been any takers.
According to a Vernon advocacy group called the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, the Central and North Okanagan have been given a choice and an opportunity in the event that rail service does not resume. Society creator Brad Clements has been visiting municipal governments across the Okanagan, urging them to take action before the corridor is lost forever. Clements believes a rail trail would boost tourism and have wide ranging benefits on health, transportation and environmental preservation. CN has already started its process of selling off the line, with first right of refusal being offered to the federal government Dec. 3. If neither federal, provincial or municipal governments purchase the land, it will be offered to adjacent property owners.
“I think there is a real opportunity to have something good come out of this,” Garlick says. “I hope everyone (federal, provincial, and municipal governments as well as the public) can work together. If we miss this opportunity and it’s all sold off that would be a shame.”
In a media release, Kelowna mayor Walter Gray said council remains hopeful that a business proposal to resume freight service will be submitted by the Dec. 2 deadline. If not, he said the city would continue investigating the possibility of a rail trail. But because the line is a private business on a regional line that traverses three municipal boundaries, he said “the City of Kelowna’s control of matters is limited.”
Meanwhile, Coldstream is looking into zoning the section of rail that goes through its district specifically as a transportation corridor. It’s already designated as such in Coldstream’s official community plan.
For some North Okanagan politicians, it’s all too familiar to the closure of the Okanagan Valley Railway’s Armstrong to Sicamous line in 2009, and the failed efforts to establish a rail trail on it afterwards. Regional District of North Okanagan director Mike Macnabb has said he supports the idea of a rail trail, however he’s hesitant to climb aboard. Garlick thinks it’s different this time.
“There’s a larger population affected by it, we have larger centres involved,” he says. “We have two ministers plus the premier. I think we can rally some support if need be.”
Okanagan mayors are scheduled to meet Dec. 11 to discuss options for the railway.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013