Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Moving the CP yards - the early years

Salter Street Bridge and CP yards (source)

The debate over the relocation of the CP Rail yards, a nearly 300 hectare strip of land that divides Winnipeg in half, has raised its head again. Here's a look back to forty years ago when the issue was first raised and everyone, in principle at least, was on board.

Map showing CP Yards (cpr.ca)

In late 1970 a Manitoba rail rationalization study got underway. It was meant to aid governments and the railways with their development plans by identifying potential conflicts between future rail and road works. The panel consisted of representatives from the three levels of government, Bernie Wolfe represented Metro Winnipeg, and from both national railways.

The largest and most contentious issue on the table was Winnipeg's CP Rail marshalling yards.

The wonderful old Arlington Bridge

Winnipeg had two overpasses crossing the yards at Arlington and Salter. Both were aging and in need of major upgrades or replacement. The city was also in the final planning stages for a $17 m Sherbrook - McGregor overpass that would have seen the two streets combine into a major north - south transportation route.

The relocation of the yards would save the governments tens of millions of dollars in planning and construction in the years to come.

July 2, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press

There was also a growing concern in the North End about the yards.

As the amount of freight shipped and the size of semi trucks grew, streets like Selkirk were congested with truck traffic day and night. In July 1971 over 50 area residents
attended a town hall meeting to express their frustration over damaged foundations and the dangerous chemicals that moved through their neighbourhood. All three elected representatives, Aldermen Zuken, Elaison and Cropo, were sympathetic and agreed that something needed to be done. Zuken, a lawyer, went one step further:

"... if you can't get satisfaction from city hall, form a human barricade across the street. That'll prevent the trailers from moving and I guarantee you'll get action very quickly. I'll even defend you for free"
July 2, 1971, Winnipeg Free Press

June 29, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

On June 19, 1972 the 480 page final report of the rail rationalization committee was released. It made a number of recommendations for railway operations within city limits including moving both the CP and CN yards from the downtown, (the CN yards are now The Forks.)

The report's technical section estimated that moving the two yards and main lines would cost about $75 m and
could be phased in over a period of years. Once completed, the benefits to the city in new tax revenue and infrastructure savings was estimated at between $63.5 m and $71.6 m. (CP enjoyed tax-free status on its lands in the city until 1984, part of the final 1884 agreement that lured the railway to Winnipeg, though CP did pay a $400,000 annual grant in lieu of property taxes.)

Most Free Press articles at the time reported that the $75 m figure was for moving both the CN and CP yards and main lines.
Wolfe is quoted in a June 23 article saying that the CP portion alone would cost around $30 million. Soon after, though, media articles forever attribute the $75 m figure to moving just the CP yards. (If anyone can find a copy of the report and let me know if CP was $30 m or $ 75 m, I'd appreciate it !)

July 15, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

In July 1972 city council voted to support the report's recommendations
"in principle".

Bernie Wolfe received a letter dated July 10th from CP's president F. S. Burbridge stating that:

"CP Rail accepts the principle of railway relocation subject to appropriate resolution of its competitive position and its operational requirements."
July 15, 1972, Winnipeg Free Press

In summer 1974 federal Urban Affairs Minister Ron Basford toured the area. He noted that the federal government had a new program in place in which they would cover up to half the costs of urban rail yard relocation and that if Winnipeg and Manitoba took advantage of it:

"The relocation could change the whole social fabric of the city by getting rid of the expression 'wrong side of the tracks'."
June 4, 1974, Winnipeg Free Press

More importantly, though, Basford noted that no level of government was able to force a railway to move if they did not want to.

The Arlington Street Overpass

October 31, 1974, Winnipeg Free Press

Despite the initial support, it appears that formal negotiations never did get underway.

The city took a "cautious approach" to formally supporting the move due to the costs involved. By 1975 they still hadn't taken a definitive stance in support of relocation. A February 1975 closed-door meeting between the three levels of government to revisit the report's recommendations, ended without any commitment, (February 8, 1975, Winnipeg Free Press.)

Another factor was likely the failure of the Sherbrook McGregor Overpass which got bogged down with infighting about cost-sharing and was finally derailed by community opposition. Perhaps if it got to the point where the three levels of government had to put cold, hard cash on the table, they may have been more interest in bringing CP Rail to the bargaining table.

The final factor was that CP Rail decided that it did not want to move. Despite supporting it in principle and apparently buying land outside the city in case of a relocation, in an October 1974 letter to a local MP, CP president Basford wrote that:

"...it was concluded that the- benefits would not justify the cost of relocating and the idea was abandoned."
October 31, 1974, Winnipeg Free Press, p. 34

CN East Yards

Beginning in 1975 a number of projects focused the city's resources away from the CP yards relocation issue.

Canadian National announced that it was interested in relocating its yards from the junction of the Red and Assiniboine rivers, a move that would require the involvement of the three levels of government. That same year the city was facing spiralling cost overruns on its portion of the massive Portage and Main redevelopment. The Arlington and Salter Street bridges could no longer wait for major repairs and the city had to invest heavily in them, eventually replacing the Salter Street structure in the mid 1980s.

Moving the CP Rail Yards Anyone Want a Peanut
CP Rail Yards over the years Winnipeg Free Press (slideshow)
Off the Rails - CP Rail yards Winnipeg Free Press (series)
Move the CP rail yards MP says CBC

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