$50 million Ottawa/Gatineau Prince of Wales Bridge rehabilitation and transit link plans stalled by federal cabinet decision

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Conceptual rendering of Prince of Wales bridge after a $50 million rehab. Source: UOttawa student capstone project supervised by REMISZ Consulting Engineers, of MOOSE Consortium.

A private inter-urban commuter rail enterprise’s plans to turn the disused Prince of Wales bridge connecting Ottawa and Gatineau into a key connecting link has been dealt a setback after the federal cabinet through an Order in Council overturned a Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) ruling requiring the city of Ottawa to re-connect and rehabilitate torn up rail lines at the Bayview Light Rail Transit (LRT) station.

The MOOSE Consortium had planned to invest an estimated $50 million to rehabilitate the bridge to provide a transit link between eastern Ontario and western Quebec, operating its trains on the city-owned tracks by paying “running rights” fees. It would recover its costs largely through fees paid by developers of 30 to 50 stations in places as far as Smiths Falls, Montebello and Alexandria, based on increased property values.

The city, which owns the rail line and bridge, has said it plans to use the bridge eventually as a link on its current LRT system, but it will be the last priority after the system’s first three phases are completed.

The ruling, delivered on April 9, says that Canada Transport Act regulations requiring railroads that are dismantling rail lines don’t necessarily need to maintain the lines in good order to fulfill the law’s requirements, as the purpose of the rules is to facilitate the transport of goods, and railroads can apply other options, including trucking services, to fulfill their obligations.

The federal cabinet ruling says that the CTA’s original decision “misinterprets the discontinuance provisions of the Canada Transportation Act.”

“Sections 113 – 115 of the Act require federally regulated railways to provide a certain level of service to anyone who offers the railway ‘traffic’ (i.e. goods) to move. It should be noted that there is no service obligation for passenger movements under the Act.”

“It should be noted that even if a rail line is not in operating condition, a railway company could fulfill its level of service obligations through various means, such as by refurbishing the railway line, using a competing railway, trucking the goods or shipping the goods through a marine carrier,” the Order in Council’s background notes say.

MOOSE director general Joseph Potvin says he is considering whether the business can seek judicial review of the Order in Council decision.

“It is clearly documented that this whole matter has involved violations of federal railway law even if cabinet now chooses to ignore its own laws to let its preferred parties off the hook. We do not believe such behaviour can last.”

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The Prince of Wales Bridge

“What has happened here is that a Liberal Cabinet is overturning its own independent federal regulator in order to pre-empt a Federal Court of Appeal case one day before the case was to be heard, in order to acquiesce after-the-fact to the 2016 illegal dismantlement/obstruction of the railway between Ottawa and Gatineau by RTG consortium led by SNC-Lavalin under contract to the City of Ottawa for its LRT,” he said.

“Nevertheless, this case does not slow down MOOSE’s business development. Our operational design has already accommodated the option of just transferring the Quebec passengers at Bayview (for the time being),” Potvin wrote. “Basically our current plan is for regional rail approximately once per hour, that transfers at three locations to high-frequency LRT service every 5 or 10 minutes (Bayview, Tremblay and Sawmill Creek). We do continue apace in discussion with potential investors.”

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