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Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 10th, 2008

Ottawa switches tracks on funding rules to aid ‘Petit Train’

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Globe and Mail

Oh this story gives me problems. I like trains. I like steam trains even better. I think people who preserve railways and run them and bring in tourists are very smart.

I have never actually been on Le Petit Train. I suppose becuase whenever I have been to Ottawa, someone else was picking up the tab and I wasn’t there as a tourist. In fact I have never been in the Ottouais. So I would have liked to ride the train, but didn’t yet, though it now looks like I will be able to, thanks to some adjustments that have been made to a federal program to alow it to be funded.

the money comes from a federal program, called Major Economic and Tourism Facilities, that was created this year to fund projects in the poorest parts of Quebec.

While some areas of the Outaouais are covered by the program, the railway line is in a previously ineligible part of the region, much of it in the riding of Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon.

A senior official at Canada Economic Development for Quebec Regions, Marc Boily, said that in order to fund the steam train, the program’s criteria were redrawn by the agency’s previous Conservative minister, Jean-Pierre Blackburn. Mr. Boily said the decision to change the program’s criteria came after Mr. Blackburn was informed about the problems faced by the 101-year-old train, which traverses a scenic route from Hull to the village of Wakefield in the Gatineau Hills.

Now, bending the rules to give money to Quebec is not exactly an innovation in Canadian politics. I am pretty sure that we worked a lot harder in Greater Vancouver to get our funding from the Urban Transportation Showcase Program, which in our case was multimodal and well thought out. Gatineau got the same amount to buy some hybrid buses. I somehow doubt they spent much on the justification for that.

And for a Conservative government to be doing this sort of stuff – just as they did in Peterborough with the “pork barrel express” (ibid) – well of course you can expect the opposition to make the most of it.

Wakefield Steam Train

Wakefield Steam Train by Steph & Adam on flickr CC

Couple of nitpicks. The train was apparently built in Sweden in 1907. Now Canada held on to steam locos long after they had mostly vanished from the US, so if you go for a ride on a steam train down there it is often an old CN or CP loco at the head of the train. So if I am going to go for a tourist train ride in Canada I would like the train to be a restored loco and cars from one of our railways, please.

Secondly, why is it that we can find money for tourist trains but not real trains? For much less money we could have the second Amtrak train running to Seattle now – and that’s important for all sorts of reasons, especially since the investment in track upgrades and new sidings is done, and it is only the Border Services Agency’s demand for cash to put on an extra shift Pacific Central that is holding things up. For nearly a year now!

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2008 at 1:56 pm

Posted in politics, Railway

Memo to next mayor: Leave the real estate game to the moguls

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Today Miro Cernetig takes the opposite view to that expressed by Pete McMartin on Saturday. He does some sums to show what the City could be on the hook for, if the whole deal goes sideways and the City ends up with the land and the condos. And don’t forget that the City owned the land in the first place and has yet to be paid all of the agreed price for it.

This demonstrates a couple of things. First this story has more “legs” than the transit ticket fine handed to Gregor Robertson – which he has now paid. Secondly that the idea of balance in the newspaper buisness is not entirely dead, which given the generally bleak view I normally espouse here, especially about the Global near monopoly here, almost amounts to an apology. Or maybe I can say that the Aspers do employ a few independent minded journalists and some of them now and again assert that effectively.

Cernetig says we have to do the math so I make it around $313 million that could be gone from the City’s property endowment fund, on that one deal. But since that fund does not pay for operating expenses, the taxpayers should not see a rise in the City’s take from them on that account. And given the current shaky state of the real estate market here, that fund was going to be clipped back a bit anyway. But the City has been in the “real estate game” for a long time, has done really well as prices soared, and should have been expecting that things would turn around – as they will again in the future. Because one thing all of us property owners know is that you should not get into it for the short term, and not just as a way of making some quick profits. Those are the people who are taking a bath right now but most seem to be holding and not folding. Becuase though demand has dropped off a cliff, prices are still holding up, which means that people who have property are not yet ready to “downgrade the selling price … in a recessionary market”. Which is a very prolix way to say “take the loss”.

Written by Stephen Rees

November 10, 2008 at 9:22 am

Posted in Transportation