Dead end for the tracks

CN crews have begun ripping up the railway tracks from level crossings in Kelowna. The railway no longer runs across Hardy Street.

It's the end of the line – literally, now – for railway tracks in Kelowna.

Crews from CN have removed the steel rails where they cross Hardy Street, a road which leads to the city's works yard at the base of Knox Mountain.

So the railway, which began operating in Kelowna in 1926, no longer runs in its entirety through the city.

“It's sad to hear the tracks are coming out,” said Dorothy Zoellner, a 85-year-old member of the Kelowna branch of the Okanagan Historical Society.

“The railway was an important connection between Kelowna and the world for a long time,” Zoellner said. “I used to go back and forth on the train all the time between Kelowna and Vancouver when I was studying at UBC in the 1940s.”

Passenger train service ended in the '60s, and freight service stopped on the Vernon-Kelowna branch last summer due to the line's unprofitability. CN, which owns the 49.5 km-long right of way, has officially abandoned the line.

Local governments are preparing to make an offer to CN for the line for use as a long-distance recreation corridor (see related story). The railway has said it wants $50 million.

Meanwhile, CN is pressing ahead with work to actually take up the steel tracks, which have considerable value.

Last year, a former director of Transport Canada told The Daily Courier that steel from other discontinued rail lines was worth as much as $250,000 a mile. That would make the steel in the Kelowna-Vernon line worth more than $12 million.

In 2003, a British engineer who stole 2-½ miles of track said to have had a scrap value of $400,000 was jailed for two years.

As CN crews take up the tracks, they will also be removing the equipment at level-crossings, places where city roads run across the railway.

In some instances, the City of Kelowna has paid for the crossing equipment, such as the elaborate lights-and-barriers located along Spall Road and Clement Avenue.

However, the city is not able to remove the equipment for potential re-sale to other communities that still have active railways.

“Unfortunately, the regulations state that once the crossing equipment is in place, regardless of who paid for it, it becomes CN's asset,” said Doug Gilchrist, the city's community planning and real estate director.