CN turns down city request for support in bid to construct pedestrian overpass

Rail company says it might need land for future expansion

A City of Terrace bid for a pedestrian walkway over CN’s tracks is languishing once again. (File photo)

A City of Terrace bid for a pedestrian walkway over CN’s tracks is languishing once again. (File photo)

The City of Terrace council is going to make another attempt at crafting a working relationship with CN sufficient that it would support construction of a pedestrian overpass over the company’s tracks as they run through the middle of town.

This time the request to meet with senior CN officials follows a hard ‘no’ given by the company when it was asked to support a city application for a federal grant to provide the majority of the money needed to build a long-desired walkway over the CN tracks at the bottom of Kalum, close to the George Little House.

The overpass would require a portion of it being located on CN land, something categorically rejected by the company.

“Terrace is a strategic location for CN and the movement of goods to and from the Port of Prince Rupert is continually growing. CN needs to protect what real estate we do currently have in Terrace as this would allow for potential future growth as our customers grow,” CN said in a provided statement.

“By adding non-CN infrastructure to CN lands, it would limit the possibility to grow in the future.”

The company also said an overpass would affect rail safety when it came to clearing snow from it and with debris being thrown from it and then landing on the tracks.

And it was worried about trespassing in the vicinity of an overpass as well.

The grant application deadline is March 31 and council members and city staffers did acknowledge the relatively short notice given CN in asking for its support.

And planner Tara Irwin said there will be other grant opportunities, providing the city with more time to develop a plan that might be acceptable to CN.

She and city engineering director Jonathan Lambert encouraged continued contact with CN in order to build the case for an overpass.

Councillor Dave Gordon did note that the proposed Kalum location is at a wide part of CN’s railyard, leading him to wonder if an alternate location might be more palatable to the company.

Coun. Brian Downie said that in this circumstance, the city was left short because it did not have a Plan B to submit in its search for a grant.

Mayor Carol Leclerc reviewed the reasons for council’s overpass advocacy in citing deaths and injuries suffered by people after being struck by trains while trespassing over the tracks.

At the moment, she said CN sends one of its police officers out from Prince George just two days out of every month.

But Coun. James Cordeiro said he wasn’t 100 per cent sold that an overpass would prevent all trespassing.

Coun. Sean Bujtas summed up the council approach, saying it needed to have a “serious conversation with CN.”

“If CN is just going to sit there and squash every time we want to put an overpass over the tracks, we have a problem,” he said. “We’re not friends anymore if that’s the case.”

“Their tracks bisect our community and we need to be able to get across them.”

Bujtas also wondered that if CN says ‘no’ to a pedestrian walkway, it could also say ‘no’ to one for vehicles.

“We need to figure out a location that makes sense. If they’re supportive of a different location, we can talk about that,” he said.

The federal grant the city had contemplated applying for– had CN given its approval – comes from a program that would have provided up to $50 million for projects meant to encourage people to get out of their vehicles.

The Kalum location was identified in 2018 through a city study as being the best of three potential locations.

A cost estimate of $11.5 million was updated to an estimate of $13.2 million and because the federal grant would provide 60 per cent of the construction budget, or $8 million, the city would need to find $5.2 million by itself.

“Additional funding sources would need to be sought,” a city memo on the matter explained.

Council now wants CN officials to appear at a council meeting, something the company has said it would attend to clarify its position.