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Saskatoon mayoral candidates weigh in on rail line relocation

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WATCH: While Saskatoon mayoral candidates have varied opinions about moving rail lines cutting through the city, CN and CP Rail have said relocation is not viable – Sep 25, 2020

Discussions about relocating the rail line that runs through Saskatoon have come to a standstill — much like what happens to traffic when a train moves through the city.

Saskatoon’s mayoral candidates weighed in on the years-long conundrum Friday, sharing their thoughts on how to get the wheels in motion.

Former mayor and candidate Don Atchison spoke with reporters at the tracks on Idylwyld Drive and 25th Street, touting his negotiation skills as the solution to the standstill.

Canadian National (CN) and Canadian Pacific (CP) railways derailed discussions earlier this month, telling the city’s transportation committee that plans to relocate or share the tracks, or to build underpasses and overpasses, aren’t viable.

Read more: Railways say Saskatoon’s plans to move train lines won’t work

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Atchison said “no” is a starting point for negotiations, though he didn’t specify how he would convince CN and CP to get on board with relocation.

“When I heard that they weren’t in favour of it, it’s certainly not the conversations I’ve had in the past with them,” he said.

“Relocating the lines is not only feasible, it’s the most practical long-term option.”

Click to play video 'Railways say Saskatoon’s plans to move train lines won’t work' Railways say Saskatoon’s plans to move train lines won’t work
Railways say Saskatoon’s plans to move train lines won’t work – Sep 6, 2020

Current mayor and candidate Charlie Clark said he’s still engaged in discussions with the rail companies.

“Moving the rail lines is a very expensive and complex undertaking,” Clark said in a statement to Global News. “If there was an achievable way to do it that made financial sense, then we would have done it.”

Current options would amount to the largest capital projects ever undertaken in Saskatoon, he said.

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“I won’t commit our city to something until we have an option that makes sense,” the statement reads.

Read more: CN, CP show ‘very little willingness’ to fund rail relocation: Saskatoon mayor

Mayoral candidate Rob Norris said Clark and Atchison aren’t the right people to give the potential project some steam.

“Both Don Atchison and Charlie Clark have really come up empty-handed in the discussion,” Norris told Global News in an interview. “We’re going to need some fresh eyes on this file.”

The former Saskatchewan Party cabinet minister said he sees potential in the overpass proposal.

In the short-term, he said, citizens need more information about when and where trains are coming.

Read more: CN train derails east of Saskatoon, blocking traffic on Highway 2

Candidate Zubair Sheikh shared the same idea as a cost-effective alternative.

“The city can release the information so that people can choose to take alternate routes,” the engineer said in a statement.

“If cameras were placed on these main affected streets, emergency services could see if their routes are being blocked when responding to emergencies.”

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Candidate and architectural technologist Cary Tarasoff said another alternative could be reducing the number of cars on the trains that cut through Saskatoon.

He said a long-term solution could be found through strengthened collaboration between the city, CN, CP and higher levels of government.

“You need to think differently and you have to be technically applied to look for those solutions,” he said. “(The city is) just not doing the right thing.”

Read more: Saskatoon mayoral candidates share platforms ahead of municipal election

For mayoral candidate Mark Zielke though, the issue is “a non-starter.”

Atchison’s desires to move Saskatoon’s rail lines and achieve a zero-per cent tax increase in 2021 are irreconcilable, Zielke said.

“All the executives from the major rail lines that come through Saskatoon have unequivocally said that they’re not going to have the conversation,” he told Global News.