I am disappointed that the Government of Manitoba has decided to cancel a study into the costs and benefits of Rail Relocation. This decision represents a step backward for the province and the City of Winnipeg – a decision that I hope can someday be reversed.
As a candidate for Mayor in 2014 – almost two years ago exactly – I said I would fund a study into Rail Relocation – relocating heavy rail traffic and rail yards outside the city – as well as the potential of creating a commuter rail network on the vacated tracks, instead of building bus rapid transit.
Many people agree this is something we are going to have to do eventually, because the City of Winnipeg has to spend hundreds of millions of dollars building infrastructure to get around the tracks, and there are hundreds of railcars carrying hazardous goods that pass through our city every single day. It shows an unfortunate lack of vision not even to fund a study into a project that could make the city and railways alike safer and more efficient.
Winnipeg businessman Art DeFehr, a supporter of rail relocation, has estimated the costs of relocation at $1-billion and the Federal Government’s Rail Relocation Act commits to covering 50% of the net costs of relocation. But a reasoned debate needs concrete numbers and plans that only experts and a study can deliver.
We need to think for the long term. In the next 20 years, Winnipeggers will certainly spend over $1-billion on infrastructure in order to avoid rail lines. The Forks is a reclaimed rail yard, and other cities have moved rail yards and converted rail lines with tremendous success. There is no reason Winnipeg can’t do it too.