June 16, 2012
Mayor John Levi & Councillor Val Wilkinson
Town of Mississippi Mills County Councillors
Dear Mayor Levi and Councillor Wilkinson
As you no doubt are aware, the removal of the train tracks on the rail line between Mattawa and Smiths Falls has now reached Lanark County, in particular, Mississippi Mills. I am interested in any update on the progress of the removal and plans for the future use of the rail bed.
It is my understanding that the Counties of Renfrew and Lanark would be given the right of first refusal on the purchase of the abandoned rail bed. I also understand that a committee has been formed to start these discussions. It is essential that Mississippi Mills has a strong voice on this committee. When I was on County Council, I had the opportunity to travel the length of that line. There are many issues affecting Mississippi Mills taxpayers that will require discussion, such as road crossings, farmer’s crossings, fencing, weed controls, etc.
However, my main concern relates to the bridges in Mississippi Mills- in particular, the subway entrance and the bridge over the river in Pakenham and the main bridge in Almonte. Will these bridges remain intact such that they can be used in the future, as an example for possible trail use? With the proposed development of the Enerdu Power Project, (which I support), will there be any temptation to remove part of the Almonte bridge? There is significant interest in our community for exploring future expansion of the Riverwalk project in Almonte and it is critical that this bridge, together with the trail bed, remain in the control of Mississippi Mills..
I would appreciate your comments.
J. A. (Al) Lunney
CC Mississippi Mills Councillors, Diane Smithson, CAO
Private company interested in CPR’s Ottawa Valley line
from Smiths Falls This Week, March 31, 2010 by CATHY JAMES
These are council briefs from the Lanark County Council’s Community and Corporate Service meetings, which took place at the Lanark County Building on Wednesday, March 23, 2011. All council members were present, except for Coun. Pat Dolan.
New interest has generated in the CP Rail’s Ottawa Valley rail line, but this time, it’s from a private company.
Lanark County Warden Sharon Mousseau, along with chief administrative officer Peter Wagland and former councillor Al Lunney, met with a consulting firm last week. The firm represented an anonymous private sector company interested in the CP Rail line currently for sale.
Last year CP Rail announced its plans to sell the Ottawa Valley rail line, which runs from Smiths Falls to Mattawa. Stakeholders had the opportunity to express interest to purchase the rail line. If no offers are put on the table, CP Rail plans to dismantle the rail and sell the steel.
The federal, provincial and municipal governments had the opportunity to express interest to purchase the rail line, but no bids were made by these parties.
Mousseau told council at its corporate services meeting they met with the consulting firm staff on March 17, who outlined their plans to complete a market research study to determine if the rail line purchase is a practical financial move.
“Apparently this kind of research hadn’t ever been done under the former leasers of the line and they think there could be real potential out there,” she said.
As part of its research, the firm asked for contact information for any companies located along the rail line, which may have a need for rail services.
She told fellow councillors the consulting firm will touch base with each municipality to verify if there would be any local businesses needing rail line services.
Earlier this year, Lanark and Renfrew counties asked CP Rail for fi rst rights of refusal for purchasing the property should the line be derailed. The private company’s interests could put any potential county plans to a halt.
But Mousseau said she simply wants to see the rail line property put to good use.
“I can’t speak for my colleagues in Renfrew or even my colleagues around the table here, but certainly I don’t believe we would be prepared to stop potential purchasers coming forward to save the rails,” she said.
Mousseau said the consulting firm has asked CP Rail to delay removing the rails until they have an opportunity to complete its market research.
Commuter rail would reduce gridlock
Ottawa Citizen January 3, 2011
Highway 417 has been expanded to four lanes as far as Arnprior. Highway 7 is being expanded to four lanes as far as Carleton Place. The result has been traffic gridlock in Ottawa’s west end at rush hour. Core traffic congestion will only get worse with future peripheral highway expansion. Development and growth follow efficient transportation corridors and, if Valley towns are to grow as satellite communities to Ottawa, an alternative to the private automobile must be provided.
Ecologically and financially we cannot continue to funnel cars into a fixed Ottawa Queensway. Unlike Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver — where heavy rail commuter service has been in service for years — commuter heavy rail has never seriously been considered for the Ottawa area.
Currently CP is applying to abandon its Ottawa Valley line. This line includes the Valley towns of Carleton Place, Almonte, Pakenham, Arnprior, Renfrew, Cobden and Pembroke. Unfortunately, the short connection between Carleton Place and Ottawa that passes through Bell’s Corners, Kanata and Stittsville has had its tracks removed, but they could be replaced at a much lower cost than the continued expansion of highways. This rail link is the last remaining direct link from Montreal and Ottawa to the west. As Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver have shown, modern urban transportation is a synthesis and integration of many forms of public transit, including heavy rail.
This is a “once only” opportunity for the City of Ottawa where transportation planners have been fixated exclusively on buses for far too long. As the successful GO Transit in Toronto demonstrates, the technology, funding, expertise and demand for rail commuter service are all present here in Ontario. The service could be initiated in a very short period of time, and at a comparatively low cost, but once the tracks are gone they are gone forever and future generations will curse our lack of foresight.
To use the CP “Valley Line” as a commuter link would serve a very necessary and practical function, in addition to preserving the tracks for future freight use when escalating oil prices once again make rail freight movements economical. It would give Valley towns the advantage of attracting industry by providing the potential for continued rail freight service both in the Valley and also to points west. It would complement Ottawa’s light rail commuter plans, and it would make the disruptive ecologically destructive and expensive expansion of highways much less necessary.
© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen
My response is the following letter to the editor of the Ottawa Citizen:
RE Commuter rail would reduce gridlock, Ottawa Citizen, Jan. 3, 2011
D. C. McCaffrey’s letter in the Ottawa Citizen, entitled “Commuter rail would reduce gridlock “sums it up nicely when he states: “Future generations will curse our lack of foresight.”
The Counties of Lanark and Renfrew have been aggressively lobbying all levels of government to stop the dismantling of this line until more time is allowed to explore all options, in particular, the economic development for the Ottawa Valley, whether freight or passenger. Not only is the removal of the tracks short-sighted, but the legislative process for the communities to respond has been structured to discourage meaningful input. The line was initially offered to the Federal Government for thirty days but the Federal Minister in charge stated that the legislation did not allow him to get involved in the process. When the line was offered to the Provincial Government for thirty days, the response was that it was not their responsibility. The line was then offered to the City of Ottawa as a small portion goes through its western community. The City had until January 5 to respond and to date I am not aware of any response.
Now it has fallen to the Counties of Lanark and Renfrew to come forth with a proposal within thirty days. If we are not able to meet this deadline, the tracks will be removed in early spring. It is estimated that the cost of the line is in the neighbourhood of $50 million so it is unlikely that any proposal will be coming forward, not only because of the cost, but because we simply have not had the time to bring all the partners to the table to discuss options.
What’s to be done? Call your M.P.P. or M.P. and ask them to defer any action on this line for at least a year to review all possible options.
J.A. (Al) Lunney, Retired Mayor, Town of Mississippi Mills
Happy New Year to all. This is the time every year when we make all those resolutions, well-intentioned, most of which we will not keep. You know- the ones about losing weight, spending more time with family and friends, and to stop complaining about all those things over which we have no control anyway, such as the weather. We live in the greatest country in the world and my new year’s resolution is simply to enjoy it.
I hope you all had as great a holiday period as Jeri and I did. Our family, complete with children, arrived before Christmas and spent seven days with us in our condo in Almonte. This year, our guests included a new dog, Cosmo, who kept all guests and family entertained. Christmas day was a great day with eleven for dinner with the usual good food and good friendship. We spent a day at my nephew’s farm in Pakenham with our American grandchildren experiencing the joys of snowmobiling and ATVs.
On December 27th, we visited with more relatives in Ottawa and had dinner that night at Al’s Steak House in Bell’s Corners.
After our guests left, we spent New Year’s Eve at a neighbour’s unit in our condo. Most of the residents in our building are originally from out of town and it gave us a great feeling to tell them about the wonderful community they live in and the great things to see and do.
We celebrated New Year’s day at the Legion here in Almonte at their annual levee. It is emotional to see the vets with all their medals so proudly displayed. Thanks to the Legion for this community event.
Tomorrow is the final day of our Christmas celebrations. We started out with Jeri’s birthday on December 17th, followed by Christmas Day, our anniversary on December 27th, New Year’s day, and will finish up with my birthday on January 2nd. Jeri has already given me a great birthday card, updating one she had given me on my 50th birthday. Believe it or not, my horoscope on my 50th birthday said I was destined to become involved in politics.
So what now?
The rail issue is heating up and I will comment further in a separate item.
On a personal note- we will be heading to Vancouver in January to visit Stephen, our youngest son, who could not make it home for Christmas. We are also planning a possible trip to Ohio in February and we have started planning for our trip to Ireland in the spring. (How did I get all this free time?)
One of the things that I am proud of that was accomplished by the previous council was the changes to the entrance way to Almonte. The roundabout, the new lanes, and the landscaping have all played a significant role in creating the entrance way to our town.
At the same time, the residents along Ottawa Street are to be commended for the work they have done and continue to do on their properties. The next time you are driving down the street take a look at all the work that has been done by the property owners. A great sense of community!
Following our meeting with Minister Merrifield on December 10th we have received a phone call from a senior official from CP Rail requesting a meeting with all interested parties. It is not clear as to why CP wants to meet at this time, but we are certainly appreciative of the offer. In any case, Lanark County will be contacting Renfrew County and the City of Ottawa to arrange for their participation.
Dealing with the railroad issue for the past few months has certainly brought back a lot of memories. I was raised on my family’s farm just outside of Pakenham. The train ran through the back of the farm and I had to cross the tracks each day going to school. If a train was going through, you were assured that if the engineer saw you, he would blow the whistle and wave. There were stations all along the line in Arnprior, Pakenham, Almonte and Carleton Place. My mother would board the train on Saturday mornings in Pakenham to shop in Almonte or Carleton Place, sometimes just for a new hat for a special occasion. We also used the train to visit my sister in Peterborough. We would board in Pakenham and then transfer in Carleton Place. As most of you know sadly that line in Carleton Place has been removed.
From a farming perspective, we used the rail line on numerous occasions. We raised chickens on our farm and they would be shipped in crates from Kitchener to Pakenham. It was always exciting to see these little chicks, each in their divided boxes within the crates. I also remember a farmer from southern Ontario buying hay from our farm and having it pressed into bales. We then had to load it on wagons and take it to Pakenham to be loaded into a boxcar. As a teenager, it was exciting to drive the new tractor through Pakenham with the loads of hay, but it was not so exciting when you saw how big the boxcar was and how many bales of hay would be needed to fill it.
And finally, what teenager from Pakenham cannot remember shooting groundhogs on the railroad tracks?
The first piece I wrote on the possible closure of the rail line ended with “how can we work together?”. I must confess that, to date, we have not had much success in achieving that goal. The Federal Government tells us there is nothing they can do about it as it is private business. The Provincial Government says it is not their responsibility; it belongs to the Federal Government. CPR, the owner of the line, won’t talk to us until January 6th as that is the deadline for the other parties to respond. Then the rail line will be offered to us for 30 days from Jan. 6 to Feb. 6. Throw into that mix the fact that councils have changed, new councils are being sworn in as we speak, and will have to be brought up to date on the issue. We are expected to develop a proposal, gain political support, all by Feb. 6th. It appears impossible but we are certainly not going to stop trying.
Representatives of the Counties of Lanark and Renfrew met with Minister Rob Merrifield, the Minister of State responsible for railroads. We asked for a moratorium of a minimum of one year to allow us to bring all stakeholders together to hold meaningful discussions on the future. The Minister stated he would talk to CP and ask for an extension but again reinforced that there was nothing he could really do about it as it was not their responsibility. If the rail lines in this country are not the responsibility of the Federal Government, then all of the country has a serious problem. However, I remain cautiously optimistic about an extension.
Lanark County Media Release December 9, 2010
Counties speak to moratorium on rail discontinuation
Lanark and Renfrew counties jointly held a press conference on Parliament Hill today to invite all stakeholders to the table in order to find a way to save the Ottawa Valley Railway and to urge the federal government to place a moratorium on rail line discontinuations.
The counties announced a stakeholders meeting will be held early in the new year. They are inviting federal, provincial and municipal government representatives and hope to include private-sector participants as well.
“Time is of the essence,” said Al Lunney, the retired Mississippi Mills Mayor who has been authorized to speak on Lanark County’s behalf on this issue. “We need to confirm everyone’s position and interest in maintaining this crucial infrastructure and find a way forward before Canadian Pacific ends the discontinuance process and dismantles the rails. It is unfathomable that in this day and age such expensive and vital infrastructure can be destroyed.”
The counties have been on alert since January, when stakeholders were notified about Canadian Pacific’s intent to discontinue and sell the Ottawa Valley Railway between Smiths Falls and Sudbury. After CP diverted traffic off the line, short-line operator RailAmerica terminated its lease with CP. This launched a process under the Canada Transportation Act that provides stipulated time periods for various stakeholders to express interest in purchasing it.
Negotiations with the private sector ended in October, but no short-line operator was secured for the 104-mile segment of the line between Smiths Falls and CFB Petawawa. As part of the legislated process, the federal government had until Nov. 5 to make an offer and the Ontario government had until Dec. 6, but both declined. OC Transpo has until Jan. 5. The municipal deadline is Feb. 4.
Stakeholders and short-line operators have recommended to the federal government’s Rail Freight Service Review Panel that there should be a moratorium on discontinuing short-line railways, but this falls outside of the panel’s current mandate, which is to examine the relationship between short- and main-line operators. “We believe the panel’s mandate should be expanded to include the issue of short-line abandonment,” said Lanark County CAO Peter Wagland.
“Part of the problem with this process is that with the municipal election in October, local councils are in transition and are not in a position yet to be able to make any decisions regarding the rail line,” said Renfrew County Warden Don Rathwell.
“It’s imperative to note that although the municipalities see the railway as a vital economic development piece in our future sustainability, the property tax base simply cannot support the purchase of the line,” said Lanark County Warden John Fenik (Perth mayor).
“This discontinuation process is flawed because there is no upfront consultation or sharing of information amongst the potential stakeholders. By obtaining a moratorium we are able to bring all the players – federal, provincial, municipal and private sector – to the table so that we can come up with a plan,” said Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet. “The legislation does not provide adequate time for us to do so, and we’re calling on the federal government to stop the process. Once the track is gone, it’s gone forever.”
The Ottawa Valley Railway, which is a natural extension of the Montreal-Ottawa network and provides access to eastern and western markets, is the last east-west alternative for cross-country trains to bypass Toronto. Congestion in that city has been cited by various stakeholders as a concern for rail service. County officials note dismantling the line will result in lost economic development opportunities in terms of new and existing industry, transportation and tourism. There are environmental and infrastructure issues if more trucks are travelling on provincial and municipal roads. National security is a consideration, as CFB Petawawa has used the line to deploy equipment.
Citizens are urged to contact MPs and MPPs with the message to stop the process. More information and a list of contacts is available at Lanark County website