Sections of the abandoned CP Rail line between Sicamous and Armstrong are coming out. Above – Workers unbolt the rail joiners along the line in Enderby.

Sections of the abandoned CP Rail line between Sicamous and Armstrong are coming out. Above – Workers unbolt the rail joiners along the line in Enderby.

Governments campaign to save corridor

Resolution would have Union of BC Municipalities become owner of abandoned rail line.

  • Jul. 2, 2014 7:00 a.m.

Local governments in the North Okanagan and Shuswap have launched an urgent drive to save the CP Rail line between Sicamous and Armstrong from potentially being chopped up and sold to private investors.

A meeting was held in Salmon Arm at the Columbia Shuswap Regional District offices on June 24 to strategize ways to preserve the line as a transportation corridor, initially for hiking and biking and, in the winter, perhaps cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.

Sicamous Coun. Fred Busch said members of the CSRD board and Splatsin council, as well as the mayors of Vernon and Armstrong, attended the meeting, which resulted in Sicamous volunteering to draft a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities.

The resolution states that UBCM should become the owner of abandoned rail corridor, and should ask the province to institute a province-wide parcel tax, similar to that levied by the Municipal Finance Authority on property tax notices, to help in their purchase and maintenance.

“We’re not the only ones dealing with abandoned railways…,” said Trouton. “This is an opportunity for us to possibly have a rail trail from Sicamous right down to the border. Hopefully it goes through, hopefully we get some support from the province and communities in the province.”

A bid to acquire the line between Sicamous and Armstrong became more tenuous when an opportunity was missed during the process that CP Rail had to follow in deregulating the line.

When a federally regulated railway, such as CP or CN, announces its intention to discontinue operation of such a line, they must adhere to a formal abandonment process laid out by the Canada Transportation Act (CTA). If no commercial sale of the line to a rail company is completed within the allowed time, CP must offer to sell the line to local governments for a price not more than the net salvage value of the line. However, the deadline for local governments to purchase the Sicamous-Armstrong line passed without an agreement.

The portion of line is now in CP Rail’s real estate group.

“There is no formal process once the CTA discontinuance process is complete,” wrote CP spokesperson Salem Woodrow in an email to the News. “CP remains in contact with local municipalities and we are considering our next steps. Any discussions we have are in private.”

Why the window of opportunity was missed remains something of a mystery. Although there had been a regional effort to acquire the line during the allowed time frame, once a local government enters into negotiations with CP, the process becomes confidential. However, now that the timeline has expired, comments are still not forthcoming.

Purchase price might have been a factor. In  August 2012, Sicamous applied to the Canadian Transportation Agency for a decision on the net salvage value of the stretch of line. The lengthy CTA document shows that although Sicamous had not arrived at a net salvage value of its own, CP generally did not agree with Sicamous’ rationale and estimates regarding other aspects of the line’s worth – with CP’s figures higher than those of Sicamous.

Trouton, who was not mayor at the time, also said he thinks the Splatsin are in conversations with CP Rail, but are bound by a confidentiality agreement.

CSRD director for rural Sicamous, Rhona Martin, spearheaded the June 24 meeting. She said prior to the meeting she was hopeful the leaders could get something moving forward. The trail would benefit the whole region, she enthused.

“It would be great for all of us,” she said, noting such a trail would keep visitors in the Shuswap longer.

The Shuswap Trail Alliance is also fully in support. Executive director Phil McIntyre-Paul said the message to people now is to lobby leaders up and down the line for their support, so there can be a non-motorized greenway corridor from Sicamous to Osoyoos – and beyond.

“Calling all governing leadership within the Shuswap/North Okanagan region to work together with Secwepemc and provincial leadership, the Shuswap Trail Alliance, community leaders, organizations and sponsoring partners to acquire the Sicamous to Armstrong rail corridor – establishing a continuous hiking/cycling greenway – and link it with the Central Okanagan Rail Trail,” states a June 27 Trail Alliance bulletin.

Meanwhile, the initiative to acquire the Central Okanagan Rail Trail that stretches between Vernon and Kelowna is moving full steam ahead, now in the 120-day window when local governments have first dibs on the line. It is owned by CN.

Brad Clements of the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative says an impact assessment report points to myriad benefits.

States a fact sheet from the report: “The positive socio‐economic impacts of trail systems, and in particular rail trails, in North America have been well documented and are, without exception, beneficial, pervasive and accessible for all user groups. The public at large, and not simply users, gain from trails as a public good. The trail is expected to attract 600,000 users per year by the fifth year.”

It notes the trail will bring $6.7 million of incremental spending to the Okanagan by year five.