Ottawa to begin discussions on Prince of Wales LRT link with West Quebec

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prince of wales bridge
The City of Ottawa owns the currently unused Prince of Wales rail bridge across the Ottawa River

MOOSE whole-region rail initiative apparently ignored

Ottawa City Council has started visualizing connecting the city’s Light Rail Transit (LRT) system to Gatineau across the Prince of Wales bridge, though none of the public documentation about this process has made any mention of the MOOSE Consortium’s private-sector initiative to turn that bridge into the linch-pin for a commercially-financed regional passenger rail service connecting 16 eastern Ontario and west Quebec municipalities.

Council approved a motion to “direct staff to continue to work with their counterparts in the city of Gatineau, to explore potential enhancements to public transit and active mobility connections between Ottawa and Gatineau including, but not limited to, the future use of the Prince of Wales Bridge to inform the next update to the Transportation Master Plan.”

The motion, introduced by Councillor Keith Egli, also asks Mayor Jim Watson to formalize the exploratory discussions with Gatineau about the bridge, which the city owns through the Capital Railway.

However, MOOSE has sought Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA) status to become Canada’s first new independent federally incorporated railway in a century, and it hopes to use the bridge as the connection-point for its proposed commercially-operated whole-region transit system to link together the individual municipal systems, and which would be funded through landowner fees based on the expected appreciation of real estate values at about 50 independent Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec stations.

MOOSE, lead by economist Joseph Potvin, believes that it can operate under federal regulations on the tracks owned by the city (over the Prince of Wales Bridge) and other railroads, paying a conventional lease fee for use of the tracks. It also proposes to finance the estimated $50 million cost in refurbishing the bridge to make it suitable for reactivated conventional inter-city rail transit, including separated cycling and pedestrian paths off of each side.

However, in autumn 2016 Ottawa’s LRT contractors, in working around the Bayview Station, have torn out a short section of track for the east-west line that MOOSE would have used for its interprovincial rail link between Ottawa and Gatineau. MOOSE has filed a complaint to the federal regulator saying this track removal violates federal law, and the regulatory decision on the issue is expected by the end of March.

Nor has the city expressed any public comments on the MOOSE proposal, even as it prepares to discuss the LRT link with Gatineau. (If the bridge is used for light rail, it would not be compatible with MOOSE’s bi-level trains which is plans to operate across the bridge, similar to the GO Trains in Toronto and AMT in Montreal.)

“Keep in mind that City of Ottawa consists of a lot of decision-makers, and there’s a whole spectrum of forces at play there,” Potvin says. “From the beginning MOOSE has (in writing and in executive meetings) invited Capital Railway/City of Ottawa to be one of the primary railway operators as participants in the property-financed Moose Consortium,” he said.

“The governance model would not put Moose Consortium Inc. in charge, rather consortium members would hold the power. This would be very lucrative for City of Ottawa to do, and would cost the (federal and provincial governments) levels billions less.

“So it’s not an “us-or-them” scenario,” Potvin says. “It’s a “this-or-that” business model situation. If OC Transpo buses can cross over to Terrasses de la Chaudière, why hasn’t the O-Train already been crossing over to the UQO campus — and to l’Aeroport execitif de Gatineau-Ottawa as its 2000 official plan explicitly documented?

“This is where the explanation seems credible, not from MOOSE, but actually from City insiders to MOOSE, regarding the ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ rationale: to deliberately keep transit in clumsy mode with all areas outside Ottawa’s property tax base.

“I’ve not come across a more credible explanation than this. It can hardly be because $50 million for basic maintenance of the Prince of Wales bridge is too much money as Mr. Egli incredibly stated in his motion last week,” Potvin said.

Mayor Watson, in discussing the Prince of Wales bridge initiative, made no mention about MOOSE at the city council meeting.

However, he said: “This (the interprovincial transit connection) is something that has been talked about for a couple of decades.”

“The reason why a previous council bought the Prince of Wales Bridge was ultimately to connect to (Gatineau’s) transit system because so many people live in Ottawa and work in Gatineau, and vice-versa. It just makes good sense.”

The initiative to connect the transit system is that Liberal federal MPs are interested in connecting the two city’s transit systems, CBC has reported. The city’s published plan just a year ago had been to remove the tracks to create a pedestrian bridge until the crossing could be used for transit more than 10 years in the future.

Watson said that the city still doesn’t have the money to extend the O-Train to the Taché station of Gatineau’s Rapidbus system, but the city wants to lay the groundwork in case money becomes available and the project could happen in the next five to seven years, CBC reported.

Meanwhile, city council has approved the $3.6 billion LRT project’s second phase, with tracks extending to Moodie and Baseline in the west by 2023, Trim Rd. in the east by 2022 the rural south and Ottawa airport by 2021. The first phase, with a downtown tunnel, will be completed next year.

“The plan with Stage 2 is the largest and the most extensive and detailed infrastructure work program in the history of the City of Ottawa,” transportation general manager John Mancioni said as the discussion started.

The city plans to put out RFPs by late May, but must still secure more than $1 billion in federal funding, or tendering and construction could be delayed.

RTG is expected to collect $492 million more off Stage 2 through a negotiated deal with the city on overseeing all LRT construction, providing 38 more vehicles and handling maintenance. The city says the negotiations with RTG on Stage 2 led to a better maintenance deal that will come into effect when the first phase of LRT opens in 2018.

However, RTG has agreed to not bid on the eastern and western LRT construction contracts, but the consortium can bid on the Trillium Line work. The city wants to work in as much contract competition as possible without losing potential savings from RTG already operating in Ottawa.

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