Construction near Prince of Wales Bridge lands City in hot water with rail authority

Prince of Wales Bridge

The Canadian Transportation Agency says recent construction by the City of Ottawa is blocking the Prince of Wales Bridge and it says the City has dismantled a section of rail line nearby.

This is according to a letter, obtained by CTV News, which states the CTA was told last summer about the obstruction. The Agency says it was contacted in July and August, 2016 by Moose Consortium Inc., to indicate a section of the Ottawa River Line, which crosses the Prince of Wales Bridge, had been dismantled, and that a permanent structure was being constructed, which would block the rail line, preventing possible future use between Ontario and Quebec.

Moose Consortium president Joseph Potvin tells CTV News he filed the complaint when he noticed the rail line was gone.

"The placement of the Bayview Station could have accommodated  the existing railway that's been there since the second term of Sir John A. Macdonald," he says. "Why that wasn't done, that's a question for the City to answer."

The letter says the City replied in February, to say a portion of the line was removed for construction at Bayview Station. Bayview is under construction due to the Confederation Line LRT project, set to launch next year.

The Agency says a permanent structure blocking the rail line effectively discontinues its use. There is a process for discontinuing a rail line, which the Agency claims the City did not follow.

While the Prince of Wales Bridge has been in disuse, the City’s latest Capital Railway three-year plan indicates the continued operation of City-owned rail lines, such as the Ottawa River Line. The City bought the Prince of Wales Bridge years ago with the intention of using it as a transit corridor, though that has not come to fruition.

The Agency says the City, as a rail line owner, falls under its jurisdiction, and has obligations to maintain a rail line. If the owner wishes to be relieved of these obligations, the Agency says, there is a mechanism “in the form of the transfer and discontinuance provisions under Division V of the Canada Transportation Act.”

The Agency has ordered the City to show cause, by June 28, why it has not breached its rail-ownership obligations. It wants the City to “address the operability of the Ottawa River Line, including over the Prince of Wales Bridge, and its plans for the line’s ongoing maintenance and eventual use.”

Recent talks with the City of Gatineau have suggested the Prince of Wales Bridge could eventually be used as a future rail link between Ottawa and Gatineau. There were plans at one point to convert the bridge to a pedestrian crossing, but those fell through when the City of Gatineau said it would not pay its $10.5 million share of the cost.

Last fall, the City put up barriers to block pedestrian access to the Prince of Wales Bridge, under orders from Transport Canada. The chain-link fence was vandalized the same day it was put up.

Kitchissippi Ward councillor Jeff Leiper tells CTV News it appears there was a breakdown in communication.

"Federal approval is obviously something the City has to be seeking," he says. "In this instance, I'll keep an open mind, but it looks like something broke down in the course of that. The other thing is, clearly the City is going to have to demonstrate to the CTA what its plans are, long-term, for reconnecting this rail."

With files from CTV News Ottawa.

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