Stephen Rees's blog

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

Arbutus Corridor

with 10 comments

Did you know that the Mayor of Vancouver has a blog? The latest entry is about the ongoing tussle with the Canadian Pacific Railway over the future of the Arbutus Corridor.

Residents along Vancouver’s Arbutus Corridor are receiving letters from Mayor Gregor Robertson this week regarding CPR’s stated intention to reactivate cargo trains through their neighbourhoods. The Mayor re-states his firm opposition to cargo trains on the route,

Well this post is simply to set the record straight. CPR are not about to run trains – freight or passenger – down the Arbutus Line. Freight trains have not run since service to the Molson brewery ended. In the intervening years the track has not been maintained, although CP have had to maintain the crossings, as they have not legally abandoned the line. So the track in its current state could not safely support any rail traffic. It is often difficult to actually see the tracks, so overgrown with brambles and bush have they become. In sections where the track is visible, one can see missing and rotten ties, missing spikes and spike plates and also places where the supporting ballast has washed away.

These pictures were taken today between King Edward and Broadway. I have many others taken over the years on other sections. No-one is going to run a freight train along here any time soon. The cost would be astronomical and there are no customers.






CP are simply sabre rattling in an ongoing real estate negotiation with the City. The revelations are that the City has made an offer of “fair market value” based on an independent assessment – and that CP has not responded. CP had hoped to make a financial killing by selling the land for development. The City won a case that went to the Supreme Court that they have the right to determine that the line remain a transportation corridor. Obviously the value as a route for a bike/pedestrian route – and potential LRT line – is lot lower than the price it might achieve if there were to be little houses where the track rots now. But since the City has determined that is not going to happen, the CP letters going to people along the route about removing their gardens are simply a bargaining tactic – and not a very smart one. CP’s Public Relations people have to be grinding their teeth.


“will be removed as warranted by our track maintenance work”

I am looking forward to seeing what track maintenance work is warranted by a freight railway with no customers


Presumably CP have already done deals with organisations like DND who use the right of way to park road vehicles





1.  See an exchange of letters between David Eby and a CP staffer  from the Courier blog.

2. CP say that they can use the track for training crews and storing freight cars


Written by Stephen Rees

July 20, 2014 at 4:13 pm

10 Responses

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  1. Go look up the Arbutus Corridor map and you’ll find the DND parking lot to be in violation of their right of way.


    July 20, 2014 at 7:05 pm

  2. Unfortunately, this quote from the Mayor’s blog may suggest an impediment to a future at-grade LRT / streetcar route along the corridor (i.e. an intensive at-grade rail use), particularly along the narrower parts of the RoW. It’ll be difficult to displace active uses on the RoW itself in future to build a transit line.

    “As Mayor, I strongly believe that the Arbutus Corridor should remain as it is today – an enjoyable route for people to walk, run and bike along, as well as a home to the many community gardens that contribute to our neighbourhood,” writes Mayor Robertson. “We do not believe there is any business case for CPR to reactivate trains along the Corridor.”


    July 21, 2014 at 1:48 pm

  3. Obvious scare tactics by CP – there is literally nothing along that line that can take a train car load of anything besides the Molson plant. What, is the Macdonalds in Kerrisdale suddenly going to accept rail car loads of frozen burger patties?

    I do fear that Gregor might have mis-stepped though. Obviously CP isn’t going to run trains, but the line’s heritage from the old interurban streetcars makes it probably the only historical transit line in the city that is still more or less intact. It is unlikely that we’d ever need a serious high capacity passenger line along there given the Canada line runs more or less in parallel, though there would be some opportunity for a more tourist oriented corridor. Finding an alignment through the city for transit is hard enough as it is – here we have a complete connection from Granville Island all the way to Richmond. Any rhetoric about ‘not supporting rail uses’ could come back to bite us.


    July 22, 2014 at 9:19 am

  4. I use the Canada Line regularly (yesterday as a matter of fact, all the way to 49th where I took a bus to the Arbutus East boulevard, as I promised a friend to water her community garden plot) and it is was already overcrowded at 4 pm.
    At any rate the Canada line is too far from Arbutus to be convenient to people living West of Granville, including Kerrisdale.

    Have a look at the map of the rapid transit systems of Montreal, Toronto, Lyon, Osaka etc.etc. and they all divide their towns in smaller areas easily accessible by rapid transit, quite often from several directions.

    I had a laugh at the new signs, placed by the tracks at most street crossings, warning people of the danger and that they can be prosecuted etc. The most dangerous things are the blackberries bushes..

    These railway tracks reminded me that my great grandma and her daughters, along with neighbours of all ages, used a pedestrian gate to cross a rail line near their homes that cut their village in 2. They even walked on an elevated path right along the tracks for 200 meters.

    That rail line goes from Bordeaux to Toulouse and even in the 1960s and 70s there were lots of trains. There are a lot more since the TGV started running in the 80s, and the region increased the number of TER trains (commuter trains). .

    Yet there hasn’t been problems at pedestrians crossings along that line.
    There has been deadly car and bike accidents, but at roads crossings, and mainly because of the half gates that tempt people to slalom between them. They only go down minutes before a train goes by at a fast speed, but many fools take a chance..A few months ago when a train entered a station the people on the platform saw a dead man glued to the front of the train..The driver never saw him. A mangled bike was found by the tracks several kilometers away..

    I checked that pedestrian crossing on Google Earth and it is still in use. More so now than when I used it last, in the 90s, as what was once an unpaved bucolic anonymous lane is now a paved street with a name, and houses alongside.

    Red frog

    July 24, 2014 at 12:46 am

  5. Am I the only one who thinks that $100 million (Or $20 million or whatever) so that the crème de la crème can plant gardens is crazy? If it is for an LRT / Streetcar then fine. But that won’t be in the cards for decades. But if you buy the right of way now, and let things stay the way they are, do you really think it will be any easier to go LRT 20 years from now? The crème de la crème will go even more berserk. At least now their anger is directed at CP.

    Maybe its a better idea to let CP do the dirty work. Let them clear the right of way. Heck, let them park railcars there for the next 20 or 30 years until the LRT is a go.

    Alex - (@Alex_AniPac)

    July 27, 2014 at 8:07 pm

  6. By the way… put a max speed of 5 MPH on the track, and only allow empty railcars (in other words not 144 tons each) on there for storage, and they wouldn’t need to do that much work. They don’t need the track to be up to mainline standards..

    Just good enough so a yard goat can run down there with empty cars for storage…. put them away someplace where they aren’t plugging up a yard, or taking up a siding. It isn’t a crazy idea.

    Alex - (@Alex_AniPac)

    July 30, 2014 at 8:42 pm

  7. I have the distinction of being the first to create a planting bed on the CP R/W in False Creek. It was 12m long, 1.2m wide and I paid for 150mm of top soil to be dumped in it by a friend with a pickup. I had no support from the board of the building we lived in, but the neighbours were very complementary when the sunflowers and dahlias first bloomed. I built a low fence on the track side, which helped separate it from an unofficial but well-beaten path. Back then the nightly grain train screeched by going to Molson’s, which was a stone’s throw from the nearby intersection, and the engineers and I became familiar and waved at each other all the time. The tracks and trains were only ~8m away from the back of our building and the foundations rocked each time as the train reversed several times through the intersection to access the Molson siding and drop full grain cars and pick up empties. The engineer had a view directly into our third floor dining room window. Everyone took it in stride; it was a part of the routine of living there.

    Alex has a point. LRT trains even with inefficient 15-minute frequencies in both directions will be another thing altogether. The tracks may have to be fenced as the inevitable collisions with people occur. This is not to say surface rail should never happen, but a caution to those who believe trams can be implemented without adequate risk assessments and engineering.

    Back to the gardens. When we moved away 16 years ago the idea seemed to die until one fellow in a wheelchair moved into that building. He continued to build on the one planting bed and garnered assistance from neighbours, and now the entire area is covered, including the tracks since the grain train stopped. I urge everyone to go see the wonderful gardens at First Ave x Fir St before they disappear.


    August 4, 2014 at 4:39 pm

  8. There are some pictures of the CP RoW at First and Fir on my photostream at Flickr – all taken a while ago

    Former CP BCER Connection
    former BCER right of way - 1st Avenue West

    Oddly I do not seem to have collected all my Arbutus Corridor pictures into one “album”
    This looks a project I should tackle while it is all still in its present condition, even though Google streetsview does a pretty good job (image capture May 2012)

    Stephen Rees

    August 5, 2014 at 8:04 am

  9. Have a look at the photo below by Kevin B. found on the Wikipedia entry on the tram de Strasbourg.'en_haut_-_Elsau.jpg

    The community gardens are fenced, not the tram tracks…I have seen other French trams running on grassy boulevards and haven’t heard about many accidents…Usually it is not pedestrians but cars turning in the path of the tram, despite flashing lights, because car drivers assume THEY should have priority..Unfortunately trams aren’t really light

    In Lyon

    Red frog

    August 6, 2014 at 11:33 pm

  10. There are photos of grass track in Paris on my flickr photostream too

    Mowing the tram tracks
    Grassed track T3 extension

    Stephen Rees

    August 7, 2014 at 10:24 am

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