BEPPLE – Railway owns the Jack Gregson Trail but it has responsibilities

(Image: Mel Rothenburger)

A FEW DAYS AGO, I took an amble along one of my favorite trails, the Jack Gregson Trail.  Tucked away, along the South Thompson River, connecting the east end of Lorne Street with Kelly Douglas Road, it provides some beautiful views of the river and hills, especially with the golden fall colours.

But, unfortunately, with the announcement last week that Canadian Pacific Railway will be closing the trail to expand its rail tracks, this will be one of my last opportunities to enjoy the walk.

What once was a path used by First Nation families going fishing along the river, birdwatchers spotting wrens and eagles, and transients looking for a campsite, will be no more.  The juxtaposition of lush plants immediately next to the river a few feet away from dry sagebrush and grasses will be taken over by rail tracks and gravel.

For millennium, long before Jack Gregson worked on the trail, long before there was a railway, people have been walking along the banks of the river.  But no more.  Alas, landownership trumps public commons.

I was skeptical that the railway owned the entire property.  I thought, perhaps that they owned only a small portion, and there might be a chance for at least some access in the future, so I went online to look at property title information, size and boundaries.

Unfortunately, the railway clearly owns the entire property bounded by the river and the existing railway, from Lorne Street to Kelly Douglas Way. They own the land and can do with it what they want.

Well, not quite.  Certainly, they own it.  But it is still within City of Kamloops boundaries, which defines zoning. The land is zoned, T-1 (Railway), so having a railway on the property is an allowable use.  But there are other designations on the property, too.

First, it is a riparian area. A development permit is required for any removal, alteration or disruption of vegetation, or construction activities, as well as construction of impervious or semi-impervious surfaces.  When I walked along the path this week, some brush had already been cut down.

Has the City issued a permit for the alteration of the riparian zone?  There are exemptions for requiring a development permit when building in a riparian zone, such as farming and mining activities, but railways are not listed as exempted. The railway needs to follow the requirements for development in a riparian zone, just as any landowner is required to do.

Second, the land is in an Industrial Land Use area.  This means it should follow requirements of an industrial area, including “for industrial uses that produce high volumes of noise, including but not limited to rail yards,…landscape features should be utilized to buffer noise”.

There is often an argument that railways do not have to mitigate noise, because they were there before anyone else.  But, in this case, clearly, the adjacent housing was there before the soon to be built rail lines.   City of Kamloops should enforce its own Industrial Land Use bylaws and insist that adequate noise barriers be erected between the new rail lines and the adjacent houses along Lorne Street.

Third, the railway needs to be made accountable for debris along its tracks, which can blow into the river.  All along the corridor from Valleyview to the centre of the city, there is garbage strewn along the rail sidings.  It swirls around as the trains drive by.

With these new tracks, there will be an easy path for garbage to blow into the river.  The railway has a responsibility to reduce garbage along its tracks, and the City of Kamloops has a responsibility to ensure the company is following nuisance bylaws.

Finally, there is the question of whether the public has the right to access the river along the trail.  According to an article by local lawyer Mary MacGregor, this is a very complex issue.  However, it illustrates how, over time, the City of Kamloops has been passive in not representing the rights of individuals to access public spaces through long established private accesses.  With the loss of the Jack Gregson Trail, the public commons, including the river, is being whittled away.

Kamloops is a railway town.  There is no getting way from that.  But even the mighty railways need to follow the bylaws of the City if they want to be part of the community.  The City of Kamloops must ensure the railway meets its obligations when the new rail lines are built.

Nancy Bepple is a former City councillor of Kamloops with a strong interest in community building projects.

About Mel Rothenburger (9052 Articles) is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

7 Comments on BEPPLE – Railway owns the Jack Gregson Trail but it has responsibilities

  1. Lets take a realistic look at this:
    1. Riparian area: so they need a permit. Do ya think the City wont give it? Of course they will as a matter of course. Not providing it would probably bring ‘action’ from CP, which the City would lose.

    2. Industrial Land Use bylaws and noise barriers: The City can request trees and walls, CP will give paperwork showing language and a timeline to do so … 5 years from now when called out for not doing it yet, it will be politically back-burnered to keep tax paying CP happy.

    3. Debris: Any complaint will happily be forwarded to CN’s PR dept who will respond with a 50 page report on mitigation, hire a guy and it will be cleaned up once, 6 months later … and then nothing till the next slew of complaints. Never expect a railroad to ‘keep an eye’ on anything. They only respond to excessive complaints filed formally, and eventually get around to it.
    Never expect a railroad to spend a penny,
    when they can run avoidance and defer to a later date.

    4. Right to access: There isnt one, period, never was. In fact any prior trail access was trespassing, just unenforced. The public has no, and never had any access rights. Whether we ‘feel’ thats appropriate or not is irrelevant. CP does not need to waiver on this.

    The City basically has no say in any of the above, but ‘our good neighbour’ CP will say all the right things, and appear to listen attentively, lots of head nods and handshakes … then will still get exactly what it needs, via escalating levels of paperwork and veiled threats of action. It will force the City to fold at every turn, as thats what they do. Railroads only operate on the long game, they can wait out any ‘outcry’ till its out of media attention,
    then do what they need.

  2. Tony Brumell // October 14, 2020 at 3:36 PM // Reply

    The railways act is one of the most powerful acts or laws on the books. Fisheries might be able to force some small riparian area changes as it may conflict with fish habitat. When the river bank collapses in spots it will hinder the migration of salmon that swim in the slack water along the shore line.Train vibration is causing the river bank to slough at numerous places along the river. This must be prevented or we could end up with another Fraser river type slide.

  3. Nancy thanks for this info. Does Fisheries have any involvement in what is being planned by the railway as it is right by the river.
    Are they even aware of what is happening.

  4. Dawne Taylor // October 14, 2020 at 11:13 AM // Reply

    Thanks Nancy – hope the City gets involved and has a say.

  5. Jean Humphreys // October 14, 2020 at 10:09 AM // Reply

    When I lived in Kamloops I hiked and biked that trail more times than I can count, and have beautiful photos as proof– spring blossoms, fall colours… such a lovely place. Wish CP rail would rethink their position and allow this lovely area to remain.

  6. R Marcus Lowe // October 14, 2020 at 8:50 AM // Reply

    Dear Nancy

    Railroaders write their own laws. In our failing democracy you will encounter this agenda more and more as you look across Canada. NIMBY no longer applies.

    Love Always, MarcusandTrish

  7. The City has no jurisdiction whatsoever over the railway. In fact I complained a number of times over the years about the sad state (ongoing garbage and weeds) along its right-of-way in the downtown area which is an ongoing eyesore to this very day.
    Regardless, the railway is here to stay and unfortunately solely on their terms. Furthermore, it is the litmus test for the strength of the Canadian economy and no one is allowed to mess with that.

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