Tuesday, August 11, 2009

 

Fears grow CN could close ex-BCRail lines

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Read Mark Hume's full report HERE.

Source: Mark Hume - Globe and Mail
Published: July 15th 2009

With some small communities fearing they could lose their only rail link to the outside, the New Democratic Party has called on Premier Gordon Campbell to release the details of a controversial deal that saw BC Rail sold to CN Rail in 2004.

Leonard Krog, the NDP's attorney-general critic, said that with the fifth anniversary of the sale reached Tuesday, a clause expired that required CN to keep all of the BC Rail lines operating.

Mr. Krog said communities strung out along more than 2,000 kilometres of former BC Rail tracks need to know if their train service is now facing a shutdown.

“What little we know about this tainted deal leads to some serious questions,” Mr. Krog said at a news conference. “Did the Campbell government sign away the rights of local communities by allowing sections of the rail line to be abandoned after five years, potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk in communities that rely on rail to transport products to market?”

He said although the 600-page contract was released in 2004, in response to a Freedom of Information request by the NDP, large parts of the agreement were redacted because of a confidentiality agreement.

“We still don't know the details of the contract. We have no idea [what rail lines might close] … we don't know how many jobs are going to be lost,” Mr. Krog said.

“I want to know what communities are going to be impacted. … Those communities need to know: Are they on the hit list?”

The rail network includes a 1,500-kilometre main line from North Vancouver to Fort Nelson, with branch lines to Mackenzie, Dawson Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Fort St. James and Takla.

The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure did not respond to a request for comment.

Kelli Svendsen, a media representative for CN Rail, said the company would let the B.C. government reply to the NDP questions about the contract, but added there were no line closures pending.

“We have no plans to discontinue lines in B.C. Our focus is on operating the railroad,” she said.

For communities on the rail network, however, the fifth anniversary of the contract has renewed fears about their future.

“There are a lot of rumours circulating [about possible closures],” said Dennis Bontron, the mayor of Lillooet.

He said the railway is seen as a vital link to the outside, even though his community sees only one freight train a day because of the slow economy.

“Our community has taken some incredible economic hits, and the loss of the rail line would be another blow,” he said. “It's damn serious.”

Mr. Bontron said rail traffic has dwindled because of the collapse of the forest industry, which typically accounted for 80 per cent of rail traffic. In 2002, passenger service between Lillooet and Vancouver was discontinued to cut costs.

Mr. Bontron said the freight line might be uneconomical now, but he predicted the resource industries will rebound.

“Our fear is that if they shut it down [because of a temporary economic slump], it will be gone for good,” he said. “It's a high-maintenance track. If you let it sit for two or three years, the cost of reconditioning it would be astronomical.”

He said the B.C. government should be looking at ways to revive the passenger service, as a way to stimulate tourism and get more vehicles off the roads.

The BC Rail deal is the focus of a long-running political corruption trial in which three former government employees, Dave Basi, Bob Virk and Aneal Basi, are accused of trading confidential information in advance of the $1-billion sale.

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Amazing. And he sat on his arse ignoring the citizens who rallied against the secrecy and the rumoured benefits rolling out to CN on July 14, 2009. BC Mary talked about that HERE under the title BC Rail: a job for a warrior.

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Comments:
In reviewing exactly what the Premier was doing in the lead up to November 25th, 2003, there were five announcements made on this infamous day, but here's one gem that shouldn't be overlooked:

http://www2.news.gov.bc.ca/archive/2001-2005/2003OTP0107-001058.htm

Last paragraph:

"....... In addition to the Nexen site, the Province will also negotiate with communities on the transfer of other non-railway lands currently held by BC Rail to help meet local needs."



Okay communities, get in the line-up, palms up. West Vancouver could go for the BC Rail line that runs through its municipality and convert the old line into a bicycle path and/or gardening plots once the toxic railroad ties are removed.
 
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