A former Quebec Premier will lead a task force looking at the feasibility of moving rail lines outside the city of Winnipeg.
Jean Charest was appointed to lead the group, which will study the pros, cons and costs associated with such a large-scale infrastructure project.
“One of the reasons I think the Premier wanted to put together this task force is to have the full picture of what costs are, which includes the costs of not moving the rail lines,” he said.
Premier Greg Selinger says the Rail Relocation Act makes a project like this particularly challenging.
“It says the rail lines shall neither gain nor lose from rail relocation. That is a particular formula that creates an interesting dynamic. So we have to do the work together to identify the benefits and identify the cost.”
He says Charest has the skills to negotiate and understand those dynamics.
“He understands that a complex, big project like this can be a game changer. But it also requires that experience of governing and finding the right judgments on what you can do and can’t do,” he said.
Selinger says the $400,000 task force won’t just look at rail relocation as all or nothing. He says it will look at what could be done in the short term, in the longer term, and what would not be feasible.
Mayor Brian Bowman says while rail relocation could make future bridges, roads and underpasses unnecessary, the city isn’t holding off on any plans yet.
“We’ve still got a job to do while we study and while this task force does its work, but we can do both and we can support those efforts and be a meaningful partner in those discussions. Once we hear back from the task force, we’ll be in a much better position to proceed,” he said.
The Premier said representatives from three major rail companies that run through Winnipeg were in the room for the announcement. But none spoke at the podium, and two did not stick around after to talk to media.
Brian Sweeney from BNSF Rail Company in Minnesota said the company wants to see what the feasibility study says about what’s possible and how it would have to be done.
He says a main concern is still being able to serve existing customers well.
“Whatever is done to consolidate and rationalize the system, of course customer service is going to have to be protected in that process,” he said.
He says a benefit of relocation would be greater capability to interchange traffic with other railroads. He says under the current setup, there are limitations on the amount of traffic they can move and what they can deliver to customers.
CN was not at the announcement. A spokesperson says while CN has no plans to relocate its lines or yard facilities outside the city, it will participate in the study. It expects the project would be “both extremely complex and costly”.
St. Boniface-St. Vital MP Dan Vandal says the federal government will want to see the results of the study, but there is lots of infrastructure funding available for projects like this.
“You’re never going to find a project that fits the transportation infrastructure envelope better than this, so I would say this is a very good fit for the federal government,” he said.