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End of the line for OVR in using Ottawa Valley rail line

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While Paul Dulmage has never been on a train in his life, he still feels rail lines should be protected, EMC News reports. And the mayor of Carleton Place, Ont., Canada, will be doing his part to ensure that the Canadian Pacific former Ottawa Valley line, which passes through the town, is not disposed of or torn up.

"It is essential
that line stay there," Dulmage said in response to the recent shutdown of
rail service by Ottawa Valley Railway on the 342 miles of track stretching from
Smiths Falls to Sudbury.

OVR entered into a
long-term lease with CP in 1996 to operate on the line. OVR came under the
control of RailAmerica following its takeover of RaiLink in July 1999. On Dec.
18, 2009, OVR said that it would be ending the lease.

While it is unknown when
the last OVR train sounded its whistle on the tracks, CP has not run a freight
train there since April 2009.

"There has been a
significant drop-off in traffic on the line running northeast out of Smiths
Falls and eventually connecting through to Sudbury," Mike LoVecchio,
senior manager of media relations for CP, said in an interview in explaining
the reasoning for the railway company stopping its transcontinental service on
the line. Instead, LoVecchio said CP has "consolidated traffic" south
on the line, from Smiths Falls to Perth and continuing on through Toronto to
Sudbury.

The only rail service
that will continue to be provided on the Ottawa Valley line at this point is
between Temiscaming, Quebec and Sudbury to service Tembec’s operations in
Sudbury. According to LoVecchio, CP is seeking a new leasor for this portion of
the tracks.

Once CP received notice
from RailAmerica that OVR would be shutting down operations on this line, it
has 60 days under the Canada Transportation Act to determine its next step. As
to whether that will mean the end of the line for this section of tracks,
LoVecchio said "not necessarily."

"Under the Canada
Transportation Act, another operator can offer to purchase the line and
continue the rail operations," he noted. "They have to make their
desire known within the 60-day window."

If by the end of
February, no one has come forward, the line can then be offered for sale to
federal, provincial and municipal governments with the process taking 30 days
per level of government.

Should there be no
"expression of interest" after that time period passes, the line can
then be deemed under the act to be discontinued.

"At that stage, the
track can be pulled and recycled, and the right-of-way could be sold off,"
LoVecchio explained. He cautioned that because it was so early in the process,
it was "probably premature to speculate" on what would happen.

CP representatives met
last week with municipal officials along the rail line, including with Smiths
Falls Mayor Dennis Staples, town CAO Wayne Brown and director of administrative
and planning services Elaine Mallory on Jan. 5, to inform them of OVR’s
decision.

While LoVecchio made it
clear that Smiths Falls, from CP’s perspective, is not going "to see any
change whatsoever" as a result of OVR no longer operating on the line,
members of town council did not let the news go without comment at a Committee
of the Whole session.

"I think we are
missing the big picture here," Councilor Ken Graham stated. "I think
this country has gone the wrong way with rail ripping up tracks." In
contrast, in Europe, trains are the "lifeblood" of countries there,
he said.

Staples suggested that
council should consult its municipal colleagues along the rail line "to
see how we can support them." The loss of the line to those communities
will eliminate the prospect of rail being used for economic commercial
purposes, he pointed out.

"I think we should
look at a moratorium on removing the tracks," he said.

Although he doesn’t have
any concrete plans for the line at present, one suggestion the mayor of
Carleton Place made was that, in the future, "we could come up with some
kind of Wakefield train from Carleton Place to Petawawa.

"I think in the long
run there will be a way to utilize that line," he remarked.

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