Rural mayors go it alone to plan commuter rail line
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
OTTAWA - A recommendation made last June by Mayor Larry O'Brien's task force on transportation continues to gather steam even though council has shifted its focus from regional transit to transit within the city.
The task force's final report recommended region-wide rail service, mostly on existing tracks, that would include service to the city's surrounding regions, covering more distance with each of three separate service expansions in 2010, 2017 and 2037.
On June 13, Mr. O'Brien is to meet with regional mayors for a followup to last year's transportation summit. On Tuesday, the mayor's office would not disclose what the city hopes to achieve at that meeting.
At last year's meeting, regional mayors were taken with the idea of extended rail service, said Arnprior Mayor Terry Gibeau.
"It seemed to make a hell of a lot of sense. Everybody signed on and away we went."
Now that the City of Ottawa has shifted its focus, Mr. Gibeau and mayors from eight other municipalities in Ontario and Quebec are in the preliminary stages of planning a commuter rail line on their own.
"It's a bunch of people who happen to be small-town politicians saying,
'Maybe we can do something from this end'," Mr. Gibeau said.
He and a group that includes Mayor Scott Wilson of Bristol, Que., aim to determine whether running commuter trains along the Ottawa Central Railway's line from Pembroke to Ottawa, criss-crossing the Ottawa River, is a viable option.
"It's a loser's argument to say we should discourage people from coming into the city," said Mr. Gibeau, "because they're going to keep coming.
They're going to keep driving cars and they're going to keep polluting."
A trial run of the train tentatively scheduled for September will run from Portage du Fort, Que., to Ottawa, near the Walkley rail yard, said Mr. Wilson.
"It's going to be nothing extravagant. We're not going to have bleachers or raised platforms or anything like that set up."
The trial run is intended to expose the riders to the route and the duration of the trip.
"There's a whole lot of homework to be done yet," said Mr. Gibeau, including determining whether the region has the ridership to support a commuter rail line.
Although the group is working independently of the city to examine commuting options, the western mayors have
approached West Carleton-March Councillor Eli El-Chantiry, whose ward the existing line crosses, about joining them for future discussions.
"Any effort from our neighbouring municipalities to reduce cars on our roads is a good sign," Mr. El-Chantiry said. "Having said that, it's always the devil in the details. Who's going to pay for what?"
To the city's southwest, a rail line runs through Smiths Falls, then on to Brockville. It has been identified as a possible solution for moving commuters, said Smiths Falls Mayor Dennis Staples.
"We have a number of citizens in my area who commute into Ottawa on a daily basis, clogging up roads," he said. "We're looking at ways that we can work with the city to come up with a better approach to getting people in and out of Ottawa for work."
Mr. Staples said he and other regional mayors expect to find out more about the city's transit plans at the June 13 meeting.
© Ottawa Citizen 2008