Rail Relocation in Canada
From our earliest days as a nation, Canada’s railways have continuously invested in infrastructure to help connect communities and to deliver products to market. As railways built their networks from coast to coast, towns and cities across the nation competed to bring rail to their communities. Today, as cities expand, more demand is placed on railways to efficiently and safely move people and goods.
Rail relocation: Easier said than done
As developers have built up land around railway property, and urban communities have expanded near customers that have historically relied on rail, some jurisdictions have proposed relocating rail lines and yards. On the surface, rail relocation may seem like an easy solution. However, this process is both extremely complex and costly.
In all cases, railways and municipalities must find and purchase new land, complete environmental assessments, and resolve the concerns of affected stakeholders, among other measures. Any land formerly belonging to railway companies to be developed for other uses must undergo lengthy and expensive environmental remediation. It often involves years of work to tear out old track, build new temporary and permanent rail lines, demolish old buildings, and construct new yards and shops. Rail relocation can force some freight rail customers to move their businesses or close entirely. In addition, relocating train tracks can negatively affect intercity and commuter passenger railways, which fundamentally rely on rail lines with urban access to deliver better service to customers.
Consideration for neighbouring communities and rail customers
Municipal authorities sometimes drive rail relocation, hoping to find new locations that are less disruptive to their citizens. These relocation proposals are often driven by proximity concerns – including road traffic, noise and vibration – and suggest that all stakeholders will benefit from relocating a rail line. However, these claims are generally speculative and don’t consider the impact on customers and neighbouring communities. Municipalities that inherit railway operations will face similar challenges.
Some rail relocation projects are driven by railway companies. For example, railways may outgrow their footprint, or existing rail facilities may no longer be suitable for upgrading or expansion. In these cases, railways will explore relocation, often in conjunction with other major transportation infrastructure developments. However, whether driven by railways or municipalities, rail companies will only modify their infrastructure after a comprehensive analysis, and if the changes don’t negatively affect customer service.