Residents along the Arbutus Corridor are being told access will be affected as Canadian Pacific clears brush and surveys the land along its 9.5-kilometre rail track, which hasn't been used for more than a decade.
CP has informed resident groups along the line that it’s taking steps “to use the property in support of rail operations.” The corridor, which encompasses 45 acres from the Fraser River to False Creek, has been at the centre of a dispute between the company and the City of Vancouver.
The Shaughnessy Heights Property Owners’ Association [SHPOA] issued a bulletin to its members, stating: “The proposed rail operations will impact vehicular/pedestrian traffic at intersections, existing community gardens, public safety, noise levels and property values at some nearby homes.”
David Cuan, SHPOA’s president, said he spoke to Howie Charters over the phone. Charters, who’s from Colliers International Consulting Services, has worked on the Arbutus Corridor file for CP over the years.
Charters could not be reached by the Courier’s print deadline, but Cuan said Charters told him May 6 that homeowners should expect a letter from CP within 10 days.
A representative from CP also contacted the Arbutus Ridge Kerrisdale Community Plan Implementation Committee [ARKS] via email last week to inform the group about latest developments.
“You may recall that quite a number of years ago CPR undertook a community visioning process that received input from your organization. The process identified alternative uses for the corridor that included public uses such as greenway for cyclists and walkers, community gardens, public transportation and selective “ecodensity” infill mixed use development in selected areas,” the email stated.
“After numerous conversations on these type of uses over the years, CPR has been unable to dispose of this valuable property and will be taking steps to use the property in support of rail operations. In preparation, a number of activities will be taking place that will include brush cutting to permit inspection, surveying and repair work. This work is getting underway immediately and CPR wants to keep your organization and its members informed.”
Jim Hall, chairperson of ARKS, said he had a subsequent discussion with a CP representative, who he didn’t name, at which time Hall was told the line would be used for training and storing vehicles.
“Therefore the vehicular access points will have to be upgraded — the signals. They will close all the pedestrian crossings that are currently being used… and probably fence it to keep the public off.”
Ed Greenberg, a CP spokesman, told the Courier the Arbutus Corridor is still considered an active rail line.
“We’ve had crews out there clearing the brush, so we can do a survey of the land, which comprises the Arbutus Corridor,” he said. “So we’re clearing the brush and the growth along that corridor so we can do a new survey of that area to ensure we have a current record of our property. There have been no decisions made on a fence and there have been no decisions regarding any operations through that area. We are exploring operational options, but no decisions have been made.”
While the property is designated as a rail right-of-way to be used for rail purposes, CP stopped shipping product on the line in 2001. Pedestrians, cyclists and community gardeners use the land now, although they’re actually trespassers on private property.
The city’s Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan designates the land for transportation, including rail and transit, or for greenways, following public hearings in 2000 — a position endorsed by the Supreme Court of Canada in 2006 following legal challenges.
For years, there have been suggestions the city should buy it or make a deal with CP, but the two parties dispute the land’s value.
A $100 million figure was floated more than a decade ago, but today’s value is unclear.
A half dozen years ago, CP funded a visioning exercise within the four neighbourhoods the rail line runs through. The final report, issued in 2007, concluded “the best use of the Arbutus lands will come from a coordinated development that integrates them with surrounding city owned lands into a comprehensive development plan.”
In 2010, deputy city manager Sadhu Johnston told the Courier he wasn’t convinced conclusions reached in the document were realistic and that the city wants a streetcar capable bike and pedestrian corridor.
The mayor's office emailed a statement to the Courier late Thursday afternoon about CP's intention to reactivate trains.
"Recently, the Canadian Pacific Railway began preparations to reactivate the Arbutus Corridor to run trains. However, the city has very little detail from CP about their plans, other than that they intend to run trains along the route. The city doesn't support the reactivation of cargo trains along the corridor and we have expressed this clearly to CP. The corridor is a unique, green route running from False Creek to the Fraser River, crossing several residential neighbourhoods, and our vision for it is to maintain it as a greenway for residents of Vancouver until there is a viable case for rail transit use," the statement from Mayor Gregor Robertson reads.
"The city has spent many years trying to work with CP to have them recognize the need for the corridor to remain a community greenway until there is a viable case for passenger rail use, and that it is not suitable for large-scale development or cargo trains. I support the Arbutus Corridor as a community greenway and future transit corridor, and ask CP to respect the neighbourhood's wishes and the Arbutus Corridor Official Development Plan."
Note: This story has been corrected since it was first posted.