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EDITORIAL CARTOON: Dec. 17, 2018
EDITORIAL CARTOON: Dec. 18, 2018
That train headed for Halifax is likely hauling freight but regional council will hear another update Tuesday on plans to put commuters on the rails sometime in the future.
The discussion, unfortunately, will be held in camera, out of public view.
“Nothing earth-shattering, it really is an update,” said Coun. Tim Outhit (Bedford-Wentworth), chairman of regional council’s transportation committee.
“We still have willing partners. All three levels of government are intrigued by it. VIA still wants to partner with us. CN is doing what CN would be expected to be doing. They are not big fans of passenger or commuter rail. Their business is moving freight and they are concerned about the port and I respect that. I’ve heard nothing yet to indicate that there isn’t hope for us to negotiate something. It’s taking longer than any of us would like it to.”
The commuter rail idea got a boost in April with the $828-million bilateral infrastructure agreement signed between Ottawa and Nova Scotia, $290 million of which was earmarked for transit. It’s a federal-provincial deal but Mayor Mike Savage has said that HRM should have a voice on the transit allocation that is to be doled out in accordance with ridership.
The mayor has said that commuter rail is the kind of project that would qualify under the infrastructure agreement criteria.
Outhit said the commuter rail line proposed would have tentative start and end points at Windsor Junction and downtown Halifax, with stops in between at Bedford, Rockingham, Mumford Road and Dalhousie University. He said both VIA and a 2015 feasibility study done by CPCS, a consulting firm formerly affiliated with Canadian Pacific Railway, have indicated to the municipality that there would be capacity on the existing rail line to accommodate a commuter service.
In a presentation to council last month, Port Authority president Karen Oldfield said the port plays an integral role in the financial status and growth of the municipality. She said the port is driven by rail traffic, not truck traffic, and that any future port expansion must be tied to rail transport.
“If the (commuter) service were to grow or if the port traffic were to grow significantly, then an additional track might be required but that is still being negotiated,” Outhit said. “Even if it did (require another track), it’s still a fraction of the cost of building or widening roads.
“That’s the negotiating and the discussions that have to be done, how much sharing can be done. How much capacity is there and over time, how much extra infrastructure would have to be added?”
Outhit said portions of a new CN rail capacity study have been made available to council.
“Right now, what we have is some initial feedback,” he said. “Some data has been received, each side is reviewing the data and retaining consultants and other levels of government to look at the data.”
Halifax Transit boss Dave Reage said in January that $500,000 has been set aside in the 2019-20 agreed-in-principle portion of the two-year municipal budget for commuter rail preparations.
Outhit said discussions and negotiations must be shielded from the public eye because of a non-disclosure agreement signed between the municipality and CN.
“All I can say is that we are getting an update and we just simply can’t do them in public, even if we wanted to, because of the non-disclosure agreement with CN,” Outhit said. “Ultimately, the decision will be made public but right now the discussion and the data that’s going back and forth is covered by a non-disclosure agreement.”
Outhit said talks are moving forward but nothing is imminent.