Local governments in the North Okanagan and Shuswap have launched an urgent drive to save the CP Rail line between Sicamous and Armstrong from potentially being chopped up and sold to private investors.
A meeting was held in Salmon Arm at the Columbia Shuswap Regional District offices on June 24 to strategize ways to preserve the line as a transportation corridor, initially for hiking and biking and, in the winter, perhaps cross-country skiing or snowshoeing.
Sicamous Mayor Darrel Trouton said members of the CSRD board and Splatsin council, as well as the mayors of Vernon and Armstrong, attended the meeting, which resulted in Sicamous volunteering to draft a resolution to the Union of BC Municipalities.
The resolution states that UBCM should become the owner of these deregulated rail corridors, and should ask the province to institute a province-wide parcel tax, similar to that levied by the Municipal Finance Authority on property tax notices, to help in their purchase and maintenance.
“We’re not the only ones dealing with abandoned railways…,” said Trouton. “This is an opportunity for us to possibly have a rail trail from Sicamous right down to the border. Hopefully it goes through, hopefully we get some support from the province and communities in the province.”
A bid to acquire the line between Sicamous and Armstrong became more tenuous when an opportunity was missed during the process that CP Rail had to follow in deregulating the line.
When a federally regulated railway, such as CP or CN, announces its intention to discontinue operation of such a line, they must adhere to a formal abandonment process laid out by the Canada Transportation Act. If no commercial sale of the line to a rail company is completed within the allowed time, CP must offer to sell the line to local governments for a price not more than the net salvage value of the line. However, the deadline for local governments to purchase the Sicamous-Armstrong line passed without an agreement. The portion of line is now in CP Rail’s real estate group.
“There is no formal process once the CTA discontinuance process is complete,” wrote CP spokesperson Salem Woodrow in an email to the Observer. “CP remains in contact with local municipalities and we are considering our next steps. Any discussions we have are in private.”
Why the window of opportunity was missed remains something of a mystery. Although there had been a regional effort to acquire the line during the allowed time frame, once a local government enters into negotiations with CP, the process becomes confidential. However, now that the timeline has expired, comments are still not forthcoming.
Purchase price might have been a factor. In August 2012, Sicamous applied to the Canadian Transportation Agency for a decision on the net salvage value of the stretch of line. The lengthy CTA document shows that although Sicamous had not arrived at a net salvage value of its own, CP generally did not agree with Sicamous’ rationale and estimates regarding other aspects of the line’s worth – with CP’s figures higher than those of Sicamous.
CSRD director for rural Sicamous, Rhona Martin, spearheaded the June 24 meeting. She said she was hopeful the leaders could get something moving forward. The trail would benefit the whole region, she enthused.
“It would be great for all of us,” she said, noting such a trail would keep visitors in the Shuswap longer.
The Shuswap Trail Alliance is also fully in support. Executive director Phil McIntyre-Paul said the message to people now is to lobby leaders up and down the line for their support.
“Calling all governing leadership within the Shuswap/North Okanagan region to work together with Secwepemc and provincial leadership, the Shuswap Trail Alliance, community leaders, organizations and sponsoring partners to acquire the Sicamous to Armstrong rail corridor – establishing a continuous hiking/cycling greenway – and link it with the Central Okanagan Rail Trail,” states a June 27 Trail Alliance bulletin.