KAMLOOPS IS a railway town. There’s no two ways about it.
CP Rail and CN Rail meet here, the first place west of Winnipeg. Both CP and CN have reload yards here as well. The busiest mainline in the west runs from Sparwood, B.C. to Kamloops.
VIA Rail stops in Kamloops as part of its train travel packages across the country as well.
The new kid on the block is Cando Rail Services, which operates a rail terminal on Mission Flats Road, across from the Domtar pulp mill. They provide storage of railcars and have plans for the site to continue to develop including transloading, railcar repair, and track and engineering services.
Meanwhile, word on the street is that there might be another rail terminal/intermodal yard built north of the CN yards. Even if that’s not the case, CN has already announced a siding extension north of Kamloops which will allow trains moving in opposite directions to operate faster between Kamloops to Edmonton. Which means that whatever track they currently have can’t handle the volumes of trains CN wants to run.
There are more trains coming to Kamloops.
But there’s even more.
Allied Track Services based in Kamloops does track and signal maintenance. Pioneer Rail Contracting does railroad track construction, maintenance and inspection services as well.
Hytracker is a manufacturer which builds mobilization equipment for railroads and railroad contractors. Simply put, they make equipment that moves on the rails that is used during maintenance and construction such as rail carts and equipment movers.
TTX, a North American supplier of rail cars, has an office in the CN yard to help provide repair and maintenance of equipment.
On Venture Kamloops’ website of top Kamloops employers, the only rail employer that is listed is CN Rail, which shows up as the eighth largest employer in Kamloops. There is no mention of the other rail companies and services. But, truth be told, if all the rail companies and related services were combined, they would be close to the top of the list for employers in Kamloops.
Many people say that Kamloops is a university town, or that Kamloops is a sports town. But one of the most important things that is making Kamloops thrive is the thousands of jobs the railways bring. Kamloops is a railway town.
So when I read the City of Kamloops draft Transportation Plan released in May 2018, I was expecting some mention of the railways.
But despite how important rail is to Kamloops, in the entire document, rail got just two mentions:
“While goods and emergency services can be moved by almost any form of transportation (e.g. shipping, rail freight, cargo bicycles, air freight) the majority of goods and emergency services are transported in Kamloops by trucks.”
“Other than rail, trucks provide the most efficient means to move large quantities of goods both locally and provincially.”
Two mentions for the industry that provides more jobs than almost any other industry.
Two mentions, and one equates rail with a cargo bike.
No mention of the need to set aside or zone land for intermodal yards or expansion of highway access for truck to rail.
No mention of supporting rail transportation as it grows. The transportation plan talks about all sorts of new roads, but there was no mention of possible upgrades to highway exchanges to improve access for potential intermodal yards. No mention of building a new road from Mission Flats to Highway 1 to aid intermodal trucking, and keeping heavy trucks out of our downtown.
The plan covers a lot on pedestrians, but nothing about pedestrian safety near railways. For example, improving fencing along rail lines would reduce rail-pedestrian interactions. Every fatality on the rail line devastates the victim’s family, as well as the railway workers involved. There is close to 100 kilometers of active rail line in Kamloops proper, so safety of pedestrians and integrity of rail operations is important to us all.
Rail crossings are particularly difficult for people with mobility issues. There are ways to make rail crossing safer. Just this May in Chilliwack, a man in a wheelchair was struck and killed at a rail crossing after his chair got caught in the rail line.
Think of all the people with mobility devices who want to get to Riverside Park via Third Avenue. Addressing the needs of people with disabilities was mentioned in the plan, but no mention is made in the Transportation Plan of improving rail crossings.
A large part of the plan addresses the importance of transportation for the Kamloops economy. It could be argued that the Transportation Plan doesn’t need to specifically address rail. Maybe general comments about industrial land and future development are enough. But the needs of other major employers are mentioned.
There are specific mentions of the needs of Thompson Rivers University, and other educational institutions. The Transportation Plan specifically makes note of needs of Royal Inland Hospital, and the other government offices south of Columbia Street.
The draft Transportation Plan does a great job of identifying needs of cyclists, pedestrians, and general commuters. The City took a lot of effort to get input from community members, as well as stakeholders such as emergency services, home builders, downtown and North Shore small businesses, and Tk’emlúps te Secwepemc. Cyclists, seniors, and students were represented on the stakeholders group. TRU, and Interior Health were both at the table.
But, despite being one of the most important transportation sectors, both in terms of jobs and impact on our community, there was no one from the railways on the stakeholders group. Their voice was not at the table.
We shouldn’t forget that CP Rail threatened to close the Third Avenue crossing to vehicles and pedestrians only a year or two ago. That crossing is important to our city in so many ways. That’s just one of many issues that won’t go away if the Transportation Plan ignores railways.
The Transportation Plan is still in the draft stage. There’s still time for the City of Kamloops to include rail. It’s time we see ourselves for who we are: a railway town. It’s time for Kamloops City council to create a transportation plan for our city’s future that includes rail.
Nancy Bepple is a former city councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.