Saskatoon city hall looks at forcing rail lines to move

Click to play video 'Saskatoon city hall looks at forcing rail lines to move' Saskatoon city hall looks at forcing rail lines to move
WATCH: CN and CP shut down city hall's attempt to move or split the rail lines that run through Saskatoon, last year. Now, council has voted to look at strong-arming the issue – Jan 26, 2021

There may be another chapter in the battle to move the train tracks that dissect Saskatoon.

During Monday’s city council meeting, Ward 1 Coun. Darren Hill charged the administration with examining several sections of the 1987 National Transportation Act.

“This is an opportunity for us to continue to look at the removal of the CP line and how we can accommodate the (Canadian Pacific) and (Canadian National Rail) movement of trains through (and) around the City of Saskatoon,” he said.

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

He proposed his motion while council was discussing placing three proposals for rail overpasses on a priority infrastructure list, for later consideration.

Story continues below advertisement

When Coun. Hilary Gough asked what the specified sections refer to, the city’s transportation director Jay Magus explained “there is an Act where you can basically force a movement of rail.”

Regina’s city council tried the same tactic during the 1980s.

“I think that was the only one was the only road we had available to us,” Larry Schneider said.

He was mayor of Regina from 1979 until 1988, at which point he became the Member of Parliament for Regina-Wascana until 1993.

He told Global News the city used the 1975 Rail Relocations and Crossing Act (RRCA), “that permitted municipalities to negotiate with the railroads to try to lift the burden of crossings in the middle of the city (and) approaching the city.”

Read more: Saskatoon city hall to examine railway crossings that could cost $93M

He said the crux of the legislation, which required involved the federal and provincial governments, lay upon whether the rail lines should “neither gain nor lose” from the situation.

“Therein lies the fault with the with the legislation, because the railroads did not ever want to give up the value of their property,” he said, pointing out the rail lines own prime real estate in the downtown cores of Canada’s major cities.

Story continues below advertisement

He said talks stalled because the parties couldn’t agree what compensation the rail giants were due from Regina or over what period the compensation should be calculated.

Another problem, Schneider said, was that discussions took years. By the time the two sides had reached an agreement inflation made relocating the tracks more expensive.

Ultimately, the provincial and federal governments balked at the extra cost and the project failed.

Read more: Farmers concerned over rail demand following Keystone XL cancellation

Subsequent federal governments have updated both the RRCA and NTA.

He said moving rail lines must involve a “union of minds,” and a determined cost that incorporates inflation.

He also warned moving rail lines “would never get cheaper… and the railroads know that too.”

And while it may be expensive — previous estimates place the cost of moving just the CP lines in the neighbourhood of half a billion dollars — he said the costs imposed by the rail lines cutting through the city are also huge, and go beyond economic measures.

“If the doctor’s on their way to the hospital or something… the 20 minute wait at the rail crossing could be a matter of lives.”

Story continues below advertisement

CP Rail declined to comment and CN did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.