Saskatoon city hall seems on track to pursue rail relocation

Posted on March 13, 2018 in

Saskatoon city hall seems likely to try to convince Canadian Pacific to move its rail operations south of the city.

Saskatoon city hall seems likely to try to convince Canadian Pacific to move its rail operations south of the city.

Rail relocation, which has often been considered unrealistic due to high costs, was endorsed by city council’s transportation committee Monday as the preferred option for future study to address railway crossing delays.

The first part of a city-commissioned study on train delays determined neither rail relocation nor building underpasses and overpasses would provide higher economic benefits than their cost.

However, rail relocation got the support of the North Saskatoon Business Association (NSBA).

“I encourage you to think big, to think as big as you possibly can because this is a prime opportunity for us,” NSBA executive director Keith Moen told Monday’s committee meeting. “This is the time.”

The report details the costs of CP rail relocation versus building overpasses and underpasses at nine railway crossings, and the estimated economic benefits of each over 30 years.

That cost-benefit analysis pegged the cost of building overpasses and underpasses at the nine crossings at $374.4 million, while the benefits lagged at $218 million. The cost of relocating the CP line was estimated at $589.7 million, while the benefits total $392.1 million.

Coun. Randy Donauer asked Moen whether he would lobby his membership to support property tax increases to pay for rail relocation.

“Absolutely,” Moen replied. He suggested the city place priority on rail relocation over other, less expensive projects.

Mayor Charlie Clark noted the rail relocation option would only address the CP line and leave Canadian National crossings at four locations: 33rd Street West, 51st Street, Marquis Drive and 11th Street West.

“When I saw this report, the business case is pretty negative,” Clark said.

Coun. Zach Jeffries acknowledged the $590-million cost of CP rail relocation is high, but added “it appears to be achievable.” Jeffries asked the city administration why other estimates have yielded much higher costs for rail relocation.

“This number has a lot more substance to it than what has been previously stated,” said Angela Gardiner, the city’s acting general manager of transportation and utilities.

The rail relocation estimate includes $79 million for a train bridge across the South Saskatchewan River and $105.9-million for a new rail yard to replace the facility located in Sutherland. The estimate also includes $27.75 million to build overpasses at Highway 16, Highway 219 and Valley Road.

Jeffries wondered whether the city might be eligible for federal public transportation infrastructure funding, given the expected impact of rail delays on the city’s planned bus rapid transit (BRT) system. He was told there are several options for federal funding for rail relocation.

Fred Kramer of HDR Corporation, the consultant that produced the report, admitted he has never been involved in an effort that resulted in rail relocation in Canada. He cited Regina and Lethbridge as cities where rail lines have been relocated.

Jay Magus, the city’s acting director of transportation, said CP is willing to meet with city officials, but the city needs to present a plan. Magus said the next steps include performing more engineering and refining costs.

Several concerns were raised about the effect of continued rail delays on the city’s proposed BRT system, which includes high-frequency routes with railway crossings on 22nd Street, Preston Avenue and Idylwyld Drive.

Gardiner said the city expects a report next year on minimizing the delays caused by trains on the BRT system.

Shifting the focus to rail relocation still needs to be approved by city council, but five councillors and Clark endorsed the idea at Monday’s committee meeting. Six votes are needed at council.

Coun. Hilary Gough, who attended Monday’s meeting even though she does not sit on the committee, hinted that she will pursue ranking the nine locations identified for underpasses or overpasses.

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