|Fears grow CN could close ex-BC Rail lines
With some small communities fearing they could lose their only rail link to the outside, the New Democratic Party has called on B.C.
Premier Gordon Campbell to release the details of a controversial deal that saw BC Rail sold to CN Rail in 2004.
Leonard Krog, the NDP's attorney-general critic, said that with the fifth anniversary of the sale reached Tuesday, a clause expired
that required CN to keep all of the BC Rail lines operating.
Mr. Krog said communities strung out along more than 2,000 kilometres of former BC Rail tracks need to know if their train service is
now facing a shutdown.
“What little we know about this tainted deal leads to some serious questions,” Mr. Krog said at a news conference. “Did the
Campbell government sign away the rights of local communities by allowing sections of the rail line to be abandoned after five
years, potentially putting thousands of jobs at risk in communities that rely on rail to transport products to market?”
He said although the 600-page contract was released in 2004, in response to a Freedom of Information request by the NDP, large
parts of the agreement were redacted because of a confidentiality agreement.
“We still don't know the details of the contract. We have no idea [what rail lines might close] … we don't know how many jobs are
going to be lost,” Mr. Krog said.
“I want to know what communities are going to be impacted. … Those communities need to know: Are they on the hit list?”
The rail network includes a 1,500-kilometre main line from North Vancouver to Fort Nelson, with branch lines to Mackenzie, Dawson
Creek, Tumbler Ridge, Fort St. James and Takla.
The B.C. Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure did not respond to a request for comment.
Kelli Svendsen, a media representative for CN, said the company would let the B.C. government reply to the NDP questions about
the contract, but added there were no line closures pending.
“We have no plans to discontinue lines in B.C. Our focus is on operating the railroad,” she said.
For communities on the rail network, however, the fifth anniversary of the contract has renewed fears about their future.
“There are a lot of rumours circulating [about possible closures],” said Dennis Bontron, the mayor of Lillooet.
He said the railway is seen as a vital link to the outside, even though his community sees only one freight train a day because of
the slow economy.
“Our community has taken some incredible economic hits, and the loss of the rail line would be another blow,” he said. “It's damn
Mr. Bontron said rail traffic has dwindled because of the collapse of the forest industry, which typically accounted for 80 per cent of
rail traffic. In 2002, passenger service between Lillooet and Vancouver was discontinued to cut costs.
Mr. Bontron said the freight line might be uneconomical now, but he predicted the resource industries will rebound.
“Our fear is that if they shut it down [because of a temporary economic slump], it will be gone for good,” he said. “It's a high-
maintenance track. If you let it sit for two or three years, the cost of reconditioning it would be astronomical.”
He said the B.C. government should be looking at ways to revive the passenger service, as a way to stimulate tourism and get
more vehicles off the roads.
The BC Rail deal is the focus of a long-running political corruption trial in which three former government employees, Dave Basi, Bob
Virk and Aneal Basi, are accused of trading confidential information in advance of the $1-billion sale.
Source: Mark Hume - Globe and Mail, July 15, 2009