Relocating Railways: Careful Consideration A Must
“Rail relocation to outskirts of cities a win-win,” says a recently published article by Mary-Jane Bennett, a transportation consultant.
Indeed, the Lac Megantic disaster has touched off a fury of discussion about railway safety in populated areas. One viewpoint favours the outright relocation of rail lines away from urban areas; those opposed point to primarily economic considerations and question the feasibility of such an undertaking.
Bennett says that “while both sides are correct, the arguments for one do not negate the benefits for the other.”
Therein is the challenge.
U.S. Study Confirms Benefits of Relocating Rail
Bennett references the Texas Department of Transport, who, in 2007, conducted an eye-opening study that concluded that “the efficiency of U.S. cities and railways alike had been compromised by urban rail transportation and that rail relocation provided benefits to both.”
The study further stated that “delays, inefficiencies, increase in emissions, and the greater likelihood of accidents at grade crossings could all be minimized by removing rail corridors from cities.”
The Texas study found that rail relocation away from populated urban areas helped in addressing operational, safety, and environmental concerns, while maintaining the economic benefit of rail service to a community.
Five different rail relocation projects were tracked in the study, including one in Marysville, Kansas, where Union Pacific’s main line operations blocked major arterial roadways for up to 14 hours a day.
A second rail relocation project in Colorado cited benefits including improved quality of life for residents in the rail relocation area, better use of available land, and improved safety.
Made in Canada: The Railway Relocation and Crossing Act
Bennett the points to Canada’s Railway Relocation and Crossing Act, which details two forms of financial assistance available to communities seeking to move rail lines away from their cores.
She notes that “under the first form of assistance, the Minister of Transport may authorize the payment of up to 50% of the cost of preparing an urban development plan. If the relevant province and the urban centre agree to the plan, they can apply to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) for an order permitting abandonment of rail lines, removal of structures, relocation of rail lines, elimination of crossings and all matters necessary to the rerouting.”
“A second form of financial assistance allows the agency to recommend a grant to cover up to one-half the net relocation cost. The grant is available provided the governor-in-council has set the money aside.”
Rail Relocations Can Have Consequences as Well as Benefits
Bennett then states that “the relocation of rail lines away from urban centres can’t only benefit a community, it can benefit a railway company.”
Unfortunately, the example Bennett uses to illustrate this point is CN Rail’s purchase of the Elgin, Joliet, and Eastern line outside of Chicago in 2007.
CN subsequently rerouted operations out of the Chicago core through nearby communities, some of which found themselves negatively impacted.
This rail relocation led to the organization of a residential coalition referring to itself as “TRAC: The Regional Answer to Canadian National.” (www.fightrailcongestion.com)
TRAC countered CN’s rerouting, citing issues including local concerns over traffic gridlock, emergency response times, environmental concerns, public safety, and economic losses. This citizen’s coalition has continually persevered, demanding accountability for the impact created by this rail relocation through their communities.
Consider All, Benefit All
Bennett says that “Some Canadian cities could benefit from the relocation of rail yards from its core,” and that “the relocation of rail lines away from urban centres is achievable in Canada.”
I agree with Mary-Jane Bennett, and believe that such relocations could result in a positive win-win for both communities and railways.
However, choosing exactly how and where to relocate rail yards and rail lines to, in order to distance them from urban centres is another matter entirely, and one that must fully consider any potential consequences for smaller communities in outlying areas.
Just ask the people living in the outskirts of Chicago.
Sources for this blog post include:
The Railway Relocation and Crossing Act
The Vancouver Sun, August 19, 2013: “Rail Relocation to outskirts of cities a in-win”
TRAC: The Regional Answer to Canadian National (www.fightrailcongestion.com)