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$50M for rail corridor

CN Rail is asking for a little more than $50M for the 49km rail corridor stretching between Kelowna and the North Okanagan.

The rail line was used to haul freight until the operator, Kelowna Pacific Railway, went bankrupt a year ago.

It has been the subject of a long, drawn out sales process ever since.

Private interests and senior levels of government have shown little or no interest in purchasing the 335 acre right of way meaning local municipalities now have the opportunity to negotiate a purchase.

Kelowna Corporate and Real Estate Director, Dough Gilchrist, says there is definitely interest within affected local governments to purchase and protect the right of way.

Kelowna, Lake Country, Coldstream and the Regional District of North Okanagan are all on board says Gilchrist, as are the City of Vernon and Regional District of Central Okanagan, even though the corridor doesn't go through their boundaries.

At the moment the local Transit Authority has the right to bid, and, if that does not happen, Gilchrist says municipalities would be given a one month window in which to make a bid beginning Sept 6.

Discussions between municipalities are still in their early stages.

A funding formula as to who would pay what and who would own what are yet to be determined.

Suffice it to say, provincial and federal government support is paramount.

"We have had discussions with the provincial and federal MLAs and ministers and we are hoping for a partnership on an acquisition. Those discussions are on-going," says Gilchrist.

"I think everyone sees this as a positive and exciting opportunity, but we all have our priorities in different levels of government. Whether this is a high enough priority and one that each agency can find funding to participate in has yet to be seen."

Gilchrist says municipalities are hopeful because it would be extremely difficult to foot the bill alone.

While CN has its asking price, Gilchrist says municipalities have done some preliminary studies concerning the worth of the land.

He wouldn't divulge what that amount is and where the negotiation price may start.

"You know better than to ask that," says Gilchrist.

A Vernon based group, Okanagan Rail Trails, headed by Brad Clements, is hopeful the affected municipalities can purchase the corridor in order to construct a trail linking the North Okanagan and Kelowna.

He says his organization is willing to raise the necessary funds, between $4M and $7M for a trail.

"We've talked to various businesses and individuals and there are federal programs we could apply for," says Clements.

"Everyone is confident that if we can get the land the public will step forward and help turn it into a trail."

Gilchrist says the goal, first and foremost, is to acquire the corridor from CN.

"What it gets used for in the future I think is something we have to be flexible on," says Gilchrist.

"A trail is an interesting idea. Rapid bus...who knows what forms of transportation it might include in the future. Many, many years down the road I know people have raised the idea of some form of rapid transit (light rail). I wouldn't exclude that from the potentials."

If an acceptable bid is presented, then negotiations with CN would begin.

If the early October deadline passes without an acceptable offer, CN could then open the process to anyone and everyone.

"The property was purchased by CN in the 20s and 30s lot by lot so, if you look at the property line, it is already sub-divided so they can technically then sell it lot by lot," claims Clements.

"We are confident that day it's for (open) sale, some of those lots will be bought. - then it's gone forever."

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