Calls for public use of a rail corridor have heightened after private interest failed.
Discussions between Canadian National and a business to operate the rail line between Coldstream and Kelowna came to an end Monday.
“CN will be offering the line to the federal government for purchase. They will have a 30-day window to respond,” said Warren Chandler, senior manager of CN public affairs.
“Should the federal government not purchase the line, it will then be offered to the provincial government, followed by the municipal government. Both will have 30 days to respond.”
Duane Thomson, a member of the Okanagan Rail Trail Initiative, says a potential trail along the old CN Rail line would be a huge boost for Lake Country in a number of ways.
“We have the vast majority of the lakefront that the rail line runs along. If you think about the loops that it would open,” said the retired UBC Okanagan history professor.
“You would have Pelmewash on the west side of Wood Lake and the rail trail on the east and north side. You have a world-class loop in terms of running or cycling. You have lake shore that is pristine and previously inaccessible.”
The potential for a rail trail along the old rail line became a possibility when the Kelowna Pacific Railway ceased last year and CN Rail began the official abandonment process.
Thomson says a new trail could be used to reinvent Lake Country, giving the area a major tourism boost.
“It would be a wonderful draw,” he said.
“This has the potential of creating Lake Country as Lake Country. It’s going to fulfill that name. It could brand us as a world-class cycling and hiking destination. It would boost our restaurants, bed and breakfasts, our museum and art gallery. It would attract tourists that are typically recently retired, pretty wealthy, world travelers. If you can bring that type of visitor into your community for a few days that’s huge.”
Thomson says if you combine the rail trail with the Pelmewash Parkway, Lake Country could have an incredible trail network.
“If we can somehow arrange to purchase the rail bed, this would be two pieces together — Pelmewash on the west and the rail bed on the east and north end of Wood Lake. That would create a wonderful trail.”
He hopes politicians from the federal, provincial and municipal governments can all work together if given the opportunity to acquire the rail line.
“Ideally, this would be a joint project so the three levels of government negotiate with CN and some how divide up the cost,” he said.
“It could be such a positive development that politicians could gain support for doing this. They would be remembered for stepping up to the plate and acquiring this for the Okanagan. This would be a wonderful legacy for the community and for the politicians.”