A task force headed by former Quebec Premier Jean Charest will look at moving the rail yards out of Winnipeg.
"Moving rail lines out of the city of Winnipeg is a historic opportunity to reshape our capital city for the future," said Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger, after announcing the creation of the task force on Thursday at The Forks — the city's most famous redevelopment of a former rail yard.
The province will invest $400,000 towards the task force's work, he added.
"While work has been underway for many years, today we are taking significant concrete steps forward in efforts to reduce traffic congestion, enhance public safety and create new opportunities for jobs and economic development," Selinger said.
But rail relocation is only part of a mix of a number of infrastructure projects, Selinger said.
"We are looking at the future of the Arlington Bridge, looking at what can happen with Marion Street … We are looking at the Waverley underpass, Jubilee," he said.
Overall, those projects and the work on rail lines create an opportunity to reinvent the city, according to Selinger.
He and Charest were joined at Thursday's announcement by Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman and CentrePort Canada CEO Diane Gray.
Bowman said he feels encouraged after watching what he calls the province's "renewed focus on rail revitalization."
"I want the City of Winnipeg to continue to be an involved partner in these discussions," he said, noting he was pleased to see Charest in the city.
Gray said the team remains convinced that rail is an important mode of transportation, particularly in the context of Canada's future.
"But we also need to make sure that we're planning for how our city grows and anticipating what that's going to look like when our city is a million people," she said on Thursday morning.
The terms of reference for the task force and a more detailed framework will be developed in consultation between Charest and key stakeholders, a press release from the province said.
No timeline has been identified for the task force's work, or ultimately, the relocation of the rail yards. If and when that happens, though, "the end result will be new jobs and economic development, reduced traffic congestion and a bold new vision for Manitoba's capital city," Charest said.
He added that he was "delighted" to be in Winnipeg, noting he has great respect for Selinger.
"There is a working group that has started the ground work here," he said.
"We are not starting from scratch. I will be assembling the players … [defining] the terms of reference and [launching] the baseline study."
The massive Canadian Pacific Railway yards, which separate the North End from central Winnipeg, have been the subject of relocation discussion for many years.
The non-profit Social Planning Council of Winnipeg has called for those yards to be moved to allow redevelopment in the inner city — new housing, green space, commercial space, recreational facilities and other urban infrastructure.
The CP yards occupy about 110 hectares (280 acres) south of Jarvis Avenue, with another 39 hectares (96 acres) used for the Weston Shops west of McPhillips Street.
According to the Social Planning Council, discussions on relocating the CP Rail yard have gone on since the 1960s. And in the late 1970s, alternative land was identified for a change but the option was not exercised by the City of Winnipeg.
The new task force won't just look at the CP yards, however, but the whole picture in Winnipeg, including the BNSF operation in River Heights. That small yard drew a lot of residents' anger when eight tall metal silos were built in 2012.
CentrePort, northwest of Winnipeg's James Richardson International Airport, has been mentioned as a possible new location for the rail yards. It is an 8,000-hectare inland distribution and warehousing depot that links air, ground and rail transport.
However, that option is still just speculation. No firm discussions have taken place, CentrePort spokeswoman Riva Harrison said in November.
CentrePort is building what is known as a common-use rail facility, to allow multiple rail lines (CN, CP, BNSF) to serve businesses in the area, but "our project is a stand-alone, separate initiative that is about increasing rail-serviced industrial space and attracting new companies to the CentrePort area," Harrison said.