The Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative is more confident than ever that a rail corridor between Kelowna and the outer edges of Vernon could still become a reality.
CN Rail is in the process of abandoning the nearly 50 kilometre stretch of railway and as part of the abandonment process has offered the line to first the federal and the provincial governments.
However neither level of government purchased the line and now CN Rail will try to negotiate with municipal governments to offload the railway.
The fact the two senior levels of government did not reach a deal wasn’t a surprise to the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative and in fact the volunteer group says they are giving a potential trail a better than even chance of becoming a reality.
“We actually didn’t expect the federal or provincial governments to purchase the right of way,” said Brad Clements, a director for the rail trail group. “We know there is a strong appetite for preserving the corridor at the municipal level and we are confident they will negotiate with keen interest to strike a deal. Last October we gave this a 20 per cent chance of happening. Today we give it an 80 per cent chance.”
With the rail line out of use and CN looking to sell it to government, Clements and a group of individuals began lobbying for a trail to link the communities of Kelowna, Lake Country, Coldstream and Vernon. The Okanagan Indian Band is also involved in the process and is claiming parts of the trail as traditional First Nations land.
Clements says having the OIB involved in the process is integral to its success.
“The Okanagan Indian Band is a key partner in this process as the right of way also passes through two of their reservation properties,” said Clements. “This is just part of the process of turning this rail line into a trail. We respect their current situation and will support them in finding a solution.”
Reports have the asking price for CN Rail to sell the line as high as $50 million. Local governments from all of the municipalities have joined forces to try and make the trail a reality and Clements says the asking price is just the start of talks.
“It’s just that, an asking price,” he said. “The price will be unreasonably high. I would suspect the municipalities will in turn offer an unreasonably low first offer. The real work will begin after that. We know that both parties wish to see this deal work so I would think they will both work to actively find a solution.”