Opinion

Cannan: Still working to keep the Kelowna-Vernon rail link alive

As you know, the railway discontinuance process has been top of mind for many folks in the Okanagan.

Two weeks ago, I received an early phone call from Kelly Brown, manager of Ashland Canada, to let me know that as of June this year their operations will be closed down.

Kelly informed me that the decision made by the head office in Ohio to shut the Kelowna operations down was based on several factors, not just the future of the rail line.

Likewise, the announcement of the closure of Ashland Canada does not automatically mean the KPR line will not resume operations.

Discussions are still ongoing between CN and interested parties who have expressed an interest in reviving the KPR line.

If an agreement is reached, then the operator will apply to the province for a charter to operate the rail line at which point CN is removed from the equation and the federal Canadian Transportation Act would no longer apply.

Protecting the corridor for public access would become the responsibility of the provincial government.

If there is no agreement, then CN will proceed with the discontinuance process.

During this phase a number of government bodies will have an opportunity to express an interest in acquiring the line beginning with the federal government and First Nations, which will have 30 days to respond, followed by the province, then BC Transit due to the fact that the rail corridor is within the Kelowna CMA, and finally the City of Kelowna.

From the outset there was always the possibility the line would not be economically feasible but there should be no doubt that our Okanagan MPs and MLAs, and our mayors and municipal councils are well aware of how important an asset this rail line is.

Regardless of the negotiations with CN, many of us see an opportunity to find an alternative use for the rail line, including the creation of a spectacular Okanagan recreational corridor which would support not only healthy living but local tourism and the subsequent economic benefits that would be generated in the community.

Vernon’s Brad Clements and others continue to work on this scenario and have managed to successfully raise funds in support of this initiative.

To check in on their progress you can go to www.okanaganrailtrail.com.

The perfect outcome remains a multi-modal pedestrian/cycling- friendly corridor as well as an active rail line and I want to thank everyone in the community who has put in time, effort and funding to work toward a positive outcome.

As noted before, the Kelowna-Vernon line served us well for nearly 80 years and we have an opportunity to make sure it continues to do so.

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