Railway 'will never be a rail corridor,' says Richmond's mayor

The Railway Avenue greenway is getting $2.5 million in park improvements. - Google Maps photo
The Railway Avenue greenway is getting $2.5 million in park improvements.
— image credit: Google Maps photo

A suggestion by a veteran councillor to revive plans for a running tram in Steveston along the Railway corridor was shot down by council colleagues Monday at city hall.

In a 7-1 vote council approved $2.5 million in park improvements along the Railway Avenue greenway, including a 3.7-kilometre paved trail on an old railroad bed used for decades by the interurban tram system.

The vote came following the objections of Coun. Harold Steves, who revived the idea of the city's heritage tram connecting the newly-constructed barn in Steveston Park to Branscombe House at Railway Avenue and Steveston Highway.

"I think we can still do that. It's simply a matter of laying some tracks along the original route through the park," he said.

Any path, Steves said, should be gravel to avoid derailing the return of the tram in the short term—and light rail transit in the long term.

"This is not a park corridor, this is clearly a future LRT route, and it has been planned as such for 40 to 50 years. My main concern is that it will be imbedded in the civic conscience that this corridor is a park and not an LRT route."

Coun. Ken Johnston said the city bought the former rail land for people to use, and public consultation found most people want a multi-use paved trail. He called the idea of a tram travelling without any connections or destination "airy-fairy."

"I see that as a Disneyland ride, and that's not what we're in the business of," he said. "Sometimes you can celebrate history, but sometimes you have to let it go a little bit."

Coun. Linda Barnes said even though the railroad bed wouldn't be used by transit, it would still be a transportation route, albeit for pedestrians, cyclists and other wheeled users.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie, who originally supported a running tram on a heritage route in Steveston, reminded council of the backlash the city faced for the suggestion several years ago.

"If one's heart is having this as a rail corridor, one's head says it will never be a rail corridor. It may be an enhanced bus route. I don't think Railway will ever be a tram route. It won't be LRT either."

If light rail transit was ever built in Richmond, Brodie said trains would travel south—possibly through Riverport—but not to Steveston or along Railway Avenue.

Council also decided Monday to order Railway Avenue property owners to remove structures encroaching on the greenway. Since the tram system ceased operation in 1958, the greenway has become an extension of many residents' backyards. According to city staff, 27 properties have encroached onto city land—some extending their backyard with fences, others building gardens, including one whose garden development on city land appears larger than his own property.

Two years ago the city bought the Railway Avenue greenway—stretching from Garry Street to Granville Avenue—from Canadian Pacific Rail for $5 million

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