The feasibility of commuter rail
Oct 24, 2013 / 7:41 pm
While many in the Central and North Okanagan would welcome a commuter rail service along the empty CN Rail line, the idea may not be feasible.
At least not in the short term.
Kelowna's Community Planning and Real Estate Director, Doug Gilchrist, says several obstacles stand in the way.
"It's a different form of track and it's a very expensive track," says Gilchrist referring to the difference between rail track required for commuter transport opposed to freight.
"It also needs quite a significant population base to supports the costs to operate and maintain it. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 500,000 to 600,000 people are some of the numbers that I've heard."
Kelowna Pacific Railway Ltd, which operated the line, entered into receivership July 5 and halted operations.
In late September, CN plans to start freight service on approximately 75 per cent of the rail network.
Due to a lack of freight, the line between Lumby and Kelowna was not included in the service resumption.
Since that time there have been several suggestions as to what should happen to the rail line and adjacent rights of way, all owned by CN Rail.
A passenger service, which would have to cross through many government jurisdictions, is just one of those.
"I am quite confident the governments and agencies that border the corridor can come together at the appropriate point in time to come to some sort of resolution on an opportunity, but I think passenger rail would be quite a stretch," says Gilchrist.
While the idea may be a pipe dream at this point in time, people who took Castanet's non-scientific poll seemed to embrace it.
Nearly 74 per cent of nearly 2,100 respondents to our poll suggest they would use a commuter rail service if it were offered between Vernon and Kelowna.
In order for anything to happen with the rail line CN Rail will have to discontinue or abandon the line.
Gilchrest says the first step in that process is already underway.
"They have advertised that they propose to abandon the railway or go through a discontinuous process," says Gilchrest.
"That advertisement was for 60 days and ends on December 2 to see if any operator of the track will come forward. If a viable operator, that CN is satisfied with, does not come forward then they will move to the disposition process which is offering the rail corridor to the federal, then provincial then municipal levels of government."
Gilchrest says the city has had some informal talks with both CN Rail and the province to understand where everyone sits in terms of their interests in the corridor.
Most of those discussions according to Gilchrist have been about the process, the first step being whether a viable operator can continue in the city rather than other future potentials.
The discussion of transportation alternatives comes at a time when residents of the Central Okanagan and the City of Vernon are being asked their opinion on transportation.
The household-based Okanagan Travel Survey will help the region plan transportation systems to better fit residents' needs.
Whether you drive, walk, bike, carpool or work from home, everyone's feedback is very important.
Once you sign up to do the survey at OkTravelSurvey.ca, you will be assigned a day in which each family member logs all the trips they make on that day. The information provided will be kept completely confidential and will be reported only in aggregate statistics.
Once you have completed your survey, you will be entered for a chance to win one of more than 100 prizes, including a grand prize of a $5,000 shopping spree.
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William R. Bennett Bridge
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District of Lake Country
School District 23
Okanagan Regional Library
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