Cabinet overturns order to repair Prince of Wales Bridge

The federal cabinet has rescinded a government agency's decision that would have forced the City of Ottawa to repair the Prince of Wales Bridge to make it suitable for rail traffic.

City was due to appeal Canadian Transportation Agency's decision this week

The City of Ottawa will no longer have to repair train tracks leading up to the Prince of Wale Bridge, according to an order from the federal cabinet. (Patrick McCurdy)

The federal cabinet has rescinded a government agency's decision that would have forced the City of Ottawa to repair the Prince of Wales Bridge to make it suitable for rail traffic.

City solicitor Rick O'Connor informed Mayor Jim Watson, transit commissioners and other members of council of the cabinet order in a memo Tuesday afternoon.

According to O'Connor, the order-in-council means the city will no longer have to fight the decision at the Federal Court of Appeal, a hearing that was scheduled to take place later this week.

In February 2018, the Canada Transportation Agency (CTA) ordered the city to repair tracks leading up to the bridge that had been ripped up during LRT construction.

Against national policy

In a statement, a spokesperson for Transport Minister Marc Garneau said the CTA decision "misinterpreted" provisions of the Canada Transportation Act by creating a perception that federally regulated rail lines need to be in "near-operable" conditions at all time. 

An order-in-council dated April 5 said the agency's decision went against national policy because it would force a railway company to invest in an "unused and non-profitable railway line," or discontinue it permanently.

The order-in-council said such a decision could discourage railway companies from buying available rail lines for future use.  

Cabinet also rejected a petition from Moose Consortium Ltd., which wanted to use the bridge as part of a commuter rail project spanning the Ottawa River.

Joseph Potvin, director-general of Moose Consortium, said the company had wanted cabinet to clear up a portion of the wording of the CTA decision that appeared to require an operator to be actively trying to use the rail line.

"Our request to the minister was to simply remove the ambiguity from the decision and just order them to have the track fixed, to reconnect it," Potvin said.

He said he's disappointed with the cabinet decision.

"Cabinet is saying that it is allowing for the illegal dismantlement of a federal railway three years after the fact," he said.

The consortium filed the initial complaint with the CTA in 2016 after part of the track was dismantled to build an entrance to the Bayview LRT station.

The CTA decision said the city didn't follow the proper procedure for the discontinuance of a rail line, which would include putting it up for sale and negotiating in good faith with potential buyers.

Garneau's office said the decision would be subject to judicial review and the decision does not affect whether the bridge could someday be used for LRT between Ottawa and Gatineau. 

With files from the CBC's Ryan Tumilty


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