Looking for a new railway operator 0
-The rail lines between Smiths Falls and Sudbury could be removed within the next two years if a third party short line operator doesn't enter the picture.
On Dec. 18, Rail America Inc. announced the termination of its lease with Ottawa Valley Railway of the Canadian Pacific Railway-owned line between Smiths Falls and Sudbury, a distance of about 483 kilometres.
CP's increasingly more efficient use of its core rail network has removed the need to use the OVR route, according to a presentation by Rick Poznikoff from Canadian Pacific's Kamloops office, who was in Petawawa Wednesday.
Now that the decision to terminate the lease has been made, CP must follow a number of steps before the final decision of discontinuance of the line can be made. It must advertise the availability of the line for il operations, offer it to the government and, if no one comes forward, discontinuance. Extending each timeline of the process to the maximum means that without a buyer, the lines, signals and all facets of the rail operation will be removed within a year and a half to two years, Mr. Poznikoff said in response to a question from Admaston/Bromley Mayor Raye-Anne Briscoe.
The loss of this vital transportation link is a serious issue affecting residents of Renfrew County and beyond, and one that is very concerning to Petawawa Mayor Sweet, who serves as the chairman of the county's development and property committee.
With no carrier at the Pembroke and Area Airport, no four-lane highway and potential loss of the rail lines, the Upper Ottawa Valley could suffer greatly as far as economic development is concerned, he told between 40 and 50 people, many heads of councils from throughout Renfrew County, during an information meeting held at the Petawawa Civic Centre yesterday.
"This is an issue that transcends borders and municipalities," Mayor Sweet said. "We must bring as many groups as possible together and make every effort possible to try and maintain this service. It is disappointing to hear this link could be gone forever."
The meeting provided an opportunity for the stakeholders, including municipalities and users of the rail line, to learn what this all means to the future of rail travel in the area. Kevin Hrysak, manager of media relations and public affairs for Western Canada, joined Mr. Poznikoff and they will attend 12 other meetings between Smiths Falls and West Nipissing to provide information and answer questions.
Mr. Poznikoff made it clear that CP does not intend to resume operations on this segment of rail line.
James Allen of JDA Consulting in Metcalfe, Ont., and former general manager of the Ottawa Central Railway, called this decision a kick in the teeth, but also encouraged those in attendance to look at it as an opportunity for economic development along the line.
He believes a business case and needs study must be conducted to determine the potential of the line. Although Ottawa Central Railway began shipping 4,000 carloads in 1998, it grew to a height of 22,000 and later levelled off at about 16,000 car loads by 2008.
The key was working with clients who hadn't shipped by rail in years and explaining the benefits, including the lower cost compared to shipping by truck.
"There is no potential for this line today which is why CP is getting out, but there may be potential if it is explored," he said following the meeting.
The key is doing this work before the rails are removed, because if they are they will never be restored.
"The main thing is to keep the steel in the ground," Mr. Allen added. "We've been too quick to lift the rails in the past and we don't want to see that happen here."
The next step is convening a meeting of municipal leaders all along the line from Lanark County to North Bay and everyone in between, which Renfrew County Warden Don Rathwell will help facilitate.
Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer reporter