CN taking back Stu­art Street rail yard from re­gional op­er­a­tor

The Hamilton Spectator - - Local - NATALIE PAD­DON npad­don@thes­pec.com 905-526-2420 | @NatatTheSpec

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

HAMIL­TON SPEC­TA­TOR FILE PHOTO

The CN rail shunt­ing yard near Bayfront Park has been a topic of dis­cus­sion since the 1990s.

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