As early as this fall, trains rumbling along for training exercises could be routine along the disputed Arbutus corridor bounded by some of Vancouver's most affluent neighbourhoods unless the city agrees to a deal to buy the land from Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd., says the transportation giant.
Mark Wallace, CP vice-president of corporate affairs, also said Monday that the company is considering welding lengths of track or storing rail cars along the 11-kilometre corridor once it is cleared of brush and community gardens, and otherwise brought up to standard after a decade of inactivity.
His comments, in an interview from the company's Calgary headquarters, suggest CP has run out of patience after talks with the city, which has been intent on buying the corridor to head off moves by CP to upgrade the corridor for transportation use.
CP has been proposing to sell the Arbutus for about $100-million, but the city says about $20-million would be more reasonable.
Mr. Wallace, said the proposed training exercises would be provided for conductors and engineers. The welding option would involve welding steel as it arrives from overseas into mile-long strips of trail for use in rail replacement across the rail network.
"We're looking at all of these things," Mr. Wallace said, adding the company is a few weeks away from a final decision on its options. "We're working through our plans now."
He said CP won't let the line along the corridor sit dormant for another decade. "We're actually going to sweat the asset and put it to use," he said.
Mr. Wallace said CP has ruled out regularly running freight trains through the corridor, for now. "It's safe to say there's very limited commercial use for the corridor. There's not too many customers," he said.
The CP executive said it was the company's view that it does not need further city approval for any of these possibilities because they are consistent with allowed activities in a transportation corridor such as the Arbutus.
City Councillor Heather Deal, designated to speak for Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson, said on Monday that CP would be within its rights to proceed with any of the options it's considering.
However, she added the city would prefer CP get past "bullying tactics" and work on a deal with the city.
Vancouver's plan is to develop the area into a green path with a mix of walking trails, cycling paths, dog parks and community gardens with a potential long-term future as the location of light-rail transit.
Kirk LaPointe, the Non-Partisan Association mayoral candidate, said the CP options would be trying for the community.
"I would hope it wouldn't get to that point. That would cause a lot of disruption," he said of welding, training runs and rail-car storage.
Mr. LaPointe has been calling for intense community consultation to come up with future uses for the land, and proposed using such non-cash options as land exchange or tax credits as possible compensation for CP, offsetting a big cash payout.
He also says Mr. Robertson should be in on the talks. "The mayor ought to be at the table. I would be."
But Mr. Wallace said there was no sign of Mr. Robertson when he last flew to Vancouver for talks on Sept. 12. Instead, he said he found himself across the table from city manager Penny Ballem and city staff. "It's fair to say our position and the city's position is still far apart," said Mr. Wallace, summing up the experience.
He said no further talks are scheduled. "If there's no deal to be made, we have to get on with life."
Mr. Wallace said the looming municipal election may be affecting things. "Our gut tells us there's probably little interest, right now, because of the election, to do a deal," he said.
Mr. Wallace's comments come as CP ran newspaper ads stating its position on the fate of the corridor. CP says, based on independent third-party appraisals, that the land is worth more than $400-million, but that the company was willing to accept "far less" to reach an agreement. They accused the City of Vancouver of offering only a "fraction" of the discounted price.
In the ad, CP says that it will have the land ready for operation by the fall if there is no deal, but Mr. Wallace said he could not offer a more specific date because the timing hinges on the progress of the crews working in the corridor.