The CPR recently caused a furore on Vancouver’s West Side by sending out a memoranda to residents titled “Notice to Residents – Train Activity in Your Community” regarding upcoming work on the Arbutus rail corridor. The company states that it will be surveying the line and evaluating track conditions with an eye to its ability to quickly access its Right-of-Way (R-o-W), make repairs and, possibly, run trains.
Crews have been clearing brush along the line, although, as of May 25, 2014, this had only been done south of Broadway. The “Community” Gardens that have taken over the R-o-W along West 6th Avenue are safe, at least temporarily. Update: May 28, 2014: Crews were clearing the tracks along West 6th Ave. but leaving the gardens untouched. Update: June 3, 2014: Crews had cleared to the north side of Broadway.
Anyone who has seen the R-o-W knows that it is useless for running trains and would require very large investments to make it viable for train operations so what is the CPR’s real end game in this flurry of activity?
Unfortunately, local media have simply parroted resident’s concerns about the possibility of trains running by their back yards. Unasked are serious questions about the timing of this sudden interest by the CPR in its R-o-W, the line’s current condition, how much investment is required to re-build it, what businesses would be served by re-instated train services (the Bessborough Armoury on West 11th?) , why has the brush clearing stopped at Broadway, etc.
Vancouver City Council is adamant that the line remain as a “greenway” until such time as it can be redeveloped as a north-south transit line. Unfortunately, the current “greenway” is also a convenient illegal dumping ground. Ironically, even crews installing transit stop concrete pads – a city responsibility – at the WB stop on 16th Ave. at the R-o-W were seen dumping excess soil on the R-o-W.
Gordon Price, the Director of SFU’s City Programme has commented that the CPR may be “softening up” local residents and Vancouver City Council for development proposals. This would fit with current CPR CEO Hunter Harrison’s drive to maximise shareholder value. The R-o-W is a valuable asset that is not generating revenue for the company.
Liability issues may be another CPR concern. An overgrown R-o-W, rotting ties, slippery rails and illegally dumped trash are potential hazards that could lead to messy and costly legal actions, if someone is injured on the property.
Or perhaps, the CPR is looking to the future and planning for construction of a subway line along Broadway. The Arbutus corridor is approximately midway between the Broadway rapid transit terminals – VCC/Clark and UBC. It could be an ideal staging location for bringing in heavy equipment for tunnel construction and also spoil removal. Using the rail line for these purposes would keep a significant amount of truck traffic off city streets.
This would provide the city with a north-south transportation corridor – just not the one it wanted.