CN taking back Stuart Street rail yard from regional operator
The long-term lease will soon be up on Hamilton’s waterfront rail yard, sparking some hope among those with dreams of a new future for the Stuart Street site.
Canadian National Railway is taking over operations of the N&NW Spur, which includes the 22-track shunting yard, as of Dec. 13, according to an online update from regional railroad operator, Genesee & Wyoming.
A representative of G&W, which assumed the long-term management lease of the site a few years ago, told The Spectator at the time it was interested in extending the lease with CN beyond 2018 but it hadn’t happened yet. The company could not be reached for comment for this week.
Since the 1990s, the city has repeatedly tried to convince CN to move the Stuart Street rail yard, including funding a study that found the cost to relocate it to Aldershot would cost $100 million.
The city’s interest in relocating the yard to make way for development has never waned, said Mayor Fred Eisenberger.
The end of the G&W lease opens up a “stronger opportunity to have that longer-term discussion” about moving the shunting yard to allow for future development, he told The Spectator.
“I’m hopeful that these discussions can be reinvigorated,” he added later.
The prospect of moving the shunting yard to the Stelco lands has been discussed over the last term of council, if not with any urgency, Eisenberger said.
“It’s come up in conversation, and no one has ever said that it isn’t a possibility,” he noted.
When asked late last year about relocating the Stuart Street yard away from the west harbour, Hamilton Port Authority president and CEO Ian Hamilton said the decision would be up to the owner, but he saw the Stelco lands as part of the solution.
At that time, he said the port authority, which has been looking for some kind of multimodal transportation hub to enhance its existing facilities, would try to start a dialogue with CN about the matter if it managed to get hold of the land.
When asked whether the port authority has had any conversations with CN about the yard now that the lease is coming up, spokesperson Larissa Fenn referred questions to the rail company.
“Certainly, robust rail service is more important than ever at the port, and to that end, we work closely with both CN and CP to make sure port tenants are wellserved,” she said in an email.
A representative from Stelco did not respond to requests for comment.
Asked about the future of the site, CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said in an email that the Stuart Street yard is an “important railway car classification site for servicing Hamilton industry.”
CN will operate the line and a 6.4 km stretch from the mainline into the city’s industrial areas along Burlington Street, he added.
“As for rail relocation, speaking generally, such proposals are complex and potentially very expensive, needing to involve a large number of stakeholders,” Abecassis added.
In 2012, local architect Bill Curran helped a group of citizens create a vision for the rail lands that included condos, stores and green space.
The end of the lease with Genesee & Wyoming makes Curran more optimistic about the future of the site for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, he questioned how great an interest CN has in operating the yard given the railway contracted it out in the first place.
“I would assume that them taking it back over is not a positive for CN, but it’s probably either a frustration or a ‘for now’ while they find someone else.”
Secondly, he expects the increase in land value might make ridding itself of the site more appealing to CN but more challenging for a bidder to raise that kind of money.
“I think it’s an exciting opportunity,” Curran said. “Perhaps it’s a good opportunity for them to rethink the whole rail yard thing.”
The rail hub, which has been there for more than a century, currently blocks public use of 24-plus hectares of harbour land between Bay Street and Dundurn Castle. Train cars containing chemicals, fuel, asphalt and other industrial materials are “shunted,” meaning they’re sorted into new trains for local delivery, steps away from places like the Waterfront Trail and Bayfront Park.
— With files from Matthew Van Dongen
The CN rail shunting yard near Bayfront Park has been a topic of discussion since the 1990s.