Tool sheds were bulldozed and plants uprooted on Thursday as CP Rail followed through on its intent to reclaim its property along the Arbutus corridor.
City residents who tended plots in community gardens along the strip were dismayed, with some calling the clearing a bullying tactic by CP, which has long wanted to sell or develop the land.
"I feel sick," Paul Kendal, who has gardened in a community plot along the line for the past four years.
"They [CP] have no actual intent of running trains [along this track] – this is all about trying to get money from the city," Mr. Kendal said. "People sink a lot into this – and the fact that they are destroying this as part of a negotiation when the city is actually talking to them about giving them millions of dollars – it makes me sick to my stomach."
The company wrote to area residents in May to say negotiations to dispose of the property had stalled and that it would look for ways to optimize use of the corridor, including running trains on it.
A subsequent notice set a deadline of July 31 for removing encroachments, including gardens, furniture and buildings, from the property.
"CP is doing what it said it would do: complete the necessary work, which includes the safe removal of vegetation and obstructions, to begin to get the track and infrastructure in the area up to federal operating standards," CP spokeswoman Breanne Feigel said on Thursday in an e-mail. "We approached the work today carefully and were respectful to our neighbours along this corridor."
Ms. Feigel said clearing work would continue into next week.
Mayor Gregor Robertson responded with dismay to word that CP was clearing the land.
"It's very disappointing, given there is no business case for reactivating cargo trains. We've asked CP to respect the wishes of the local neighbourhood, and to continue to work with the city towards a long-term solution," he said in a statement.
The 11-kilometre Arbutus corridor runs from False Creek to the Fraser River through some of the priciest real estate in the city.
The property has been in limbo since at least 2000, when the city passed a bylaw designating the corridor a public thoroughfare.
CP challenged the bylaw in court. The case went to the Supreme Court of Canada, which in 2006 ruled in favour of the city, saying it controls land use along the route and did not have to pay compensation to CP for the bylaw's effect, which CP said amounted to freezing the corridor without legally acquiring it.
The track was last used for trains in 2001.
The city and CP have since held off-and-on discussions about the corridor. In the most recent round, the parties have been far apart on price, with the city believed to be offering $20-million while CP is said to want $100-million.
In a July letter to CP chief executive Hunter Harrison, Mr. Robertson said, "we disagree with you on what fair market value is for the land," noting that the city's assumptions are based on existing and future allowed uses for property under Vancouver's official development plan, while CP's assumptions hinge on potential value if development was allowed.
In the letter, the mayor also asked CP to cease efforts to remove community gardens, saying "over the last 14 years, there have been no trains, minimal upkeep and little to no interest in this greenway from CP."
The city has not received a response to that letter.