The Kelowna to Vernon rail services ceased operating in July when Kelowna Pacific Railway (KPR) went into receivership. KPR was leasing the rail line from the Canadian National Railway Company (CN).
The cessation of rail services has had a serious impact on Ashland Canada’s Kelowna plant and other Okanagan businesses.
For the past few months, a number of us have been working to explore various options that can re-start the rail service, including Kelly Brown, Ashland’s manager, their lawyer Barry Penner, our MPs, our MLAs, our mayors and their councils.
As of October 3rd, CN has activated the discontinuance of service process. The discontinuance has 60 days to unfold before the rail line is then offered for sale.
Ashland is working with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) to try to get the line operating again. The CTA is an independent administrative tribunal of the Government of Canada that makes decisions relating to federally-regulated modes of transportation (air, rail and marine).
Ashland needs a favorable ruling by the CTA, but in the event that does not come to pass, a solid Plan B needs to be in place so it can be presented to CN before the Dec. 3 deadline.
Determining the viability of a new short haul operator, for instance, is being considered.
Kelly and his team are still pulling together a coalition of shippers and allies and we remain confident and hopeful that enough interest can be generated.
The Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association (CME) have indicated they would like to commit resources to the cause and are reaching out to all manufacturer and stakeholders to come on board to help save the rail.
Rail lines are an important transportation option for moving goods and services in the Okanagan in a cost effective way. Without the rail option, more and more transportation gets pushed on to our already well-used highways. Tolko now has no choice but to haul loads of lumber along the Coquihalla. Increasing truck traffic is hard on our road infrastructure and greater congestion poses higher safety and environmental risks.
I am also very concerned about the loss of good paying jobs which could disappear with the demise of the rail line. As well, any potential employers considering setting up business might be less inclined if they cannot reply on alternative modes of transportation to get their products moving.
The good news is that everyone is talking and we remain optimistic that there is still a chance the Kelowna to Vernon rail corridor can be preserved.
Residents have also contacted me and presented a few alternatives should the rail line be abandoned: Some see a commuter transportation system operating between the two cities with stops at UBCO and other locales.
Others see the creation of a spectacular Okanagan recreational corridor and opportunities for local tourism and healthy living. I know Brad Clements, from Vernon, is working on this and has set up a website at www.okanaganrailtrail.com.
The perfect scenario would be a multi-modal pedestrian/cycling-friendly corridor as well as an active rail line. For that to happen, the community will need to “buy in” to the proposal, much like the “buy a metre” campaign that was run by the Mission Creek Greenway community, where citizens and local businesses could “buy a tie” of the rail line.
It would be an opportunity for everyone from Kelowna to Vernon to get involved in a meaningful way.
Our long and romantic history with the railroad and the rail lines that connect us still sparks people’s passions. The Kelowna-Vernon line served us well for nearly 80 years and we have an opportunity to make sure it continues to do so.
It will take a concerted effort by municipalities, business, and citizens, the region, the province and your elected officials to see it to a satisfactory end.