FAQ: Transformation of the railway corridor into a linear park

Q1. What is Chelsea Trails’ vision for the railway corridor?

A. Chelsea Trails  is a community based group dedicated to the preservation and creation of a green trail network linking the village centre, schools and community centres to neighbourhoods and to the natural assets of Gatineau Park and the Gatineau River. We believe that, building on the success of the Community Winter Trail there would be enormous benefits to Chelsea residents by creating a four-season linear park the length of Chelsea along the railway corridor, which follows the shore of the Gatineau River. The linear park could be used for walking (with or without your dog), jogging, low speed cycling, skiing, snowshoeing, and other non-motorized activities. A linear park would provide an off-road connection linking neighbourhoods such as Mile Hill, Chelsea village, Tenaga, Gleneagle, Kirk’s Ferry, Burnett, Cascades, Farm Point and Morrison’s Quarry, and providing access to recreational facilities such as the Cascades Club, the Larrimac Golf Club, the Gatineau River Yacht Club,  the Farm Point Community Centre and sports field and the future Chelsea senior’s residence in Farm Point.

SCT Linear Park Vision Mar 2015

Vision for an active healthy community connected by trails / Valley Voices – 2013

Chelsea-sur-mer / Valley Voices – 2014.

Q2. Will a linear park affect the privacy of adjacent residents? 

A. The Community Winter Trail is currently used primarily by Chelsea residents for recreational purposes without significantly affecting the quality of life of residents who live near the corridor. Many residents also use the railway corridor in other seasons to walk their dogs or to visit neighbours, but are limited by the presence of the tracks and the difficult surface. Chelsea Trails believes Chelsea should build on the success of the Winter Trail and develop the corridor as a four-season multi-use linear park. Specifically, we recommend that the trail be developed from the top of Mile Hill on Loretta Loop and continue north to Morrison Quarry north of Farm Point at the Chelsea limit. It is not our recommendation to have a direct connection to the City of Gatineau cycle network, or to designate the corridor as a regional cycling route. While very low speed cycling would be appropriate in the linear park, to ensure the safety of all trail users, we strongly recommend it be designed in such a way as to prevent use by bicycles travelling at high speed. We recommend an informal, gravel surface that would allow multi-use activities such as walking, running, dog walking, and low speed bicycling. High speed cycling would be discouraged through use of traffic calming, strategic offset barriers and signage. Road cyclists should be directed by signage to Route 105 where the planned upgrading for 2015 will include cycling lanes making it more appropriate for road cyclists and cycle touring.  In this way we would aim to preserve the linear park for multi-purpose use primarily by Chelsea residents. With these considerations, it is our belief that the creation of a linear park will enhance the community life of local residents and ensure respect for privacy and private property.

Q3. Why not continue the linear park all the way to Gatineau?

A. Chelsea Trails believes the linear park should begin at chemin Loretta in the Mile Hill neighbourhood of Chelsea and continue north to the Morrison Quarry. South of chemin Loretta the railway has been badly damaged and has a history of landslides in the area of the Chelsea Creek. In order to make the area safe very expensive and extensive stabilization work would be required.

Q4. Why focus on local residents?

A. There are approximately 400 private properties directly adjacent to the railway corridor along the 20 km length of the proposed linear park in Chelsea. Chelsea Trails believes that the lifestyles of residents near the corridor should be respected as much as possible while ensuring that we all benefit from the features of the linear park. Chelsea Trails believes most property owners adjacent to the track are reasonably comfortable with the usage levels of the winter community trail along the corridor and that a similar local focus should be adopted for an all-season linear park. This would provide Chelsea residents with year-around access to the linear park without significantly impacting the adjacent neighbourhoods through which the park would pass.

People from outside the community would of course be free to use the linear park, but we believe the best model lies in designing the linear park with a focus on the local community.

Q5. Thousands of people have signed a petition asking for a bicycle path, what about them?

A. The petition shows there is widespread interest in a “bicycle path” from people across the national capital region. Chelsea Trails believes the linear park should be designed for multipurpose use including walking, jogging, low speed cycling, dog-walking etc. Some of these activities are not safely compatible with high volumes of cyclists or high speed cycling. Chelsea Trails believes that improvements to the primary cycling corridors identified in Chelsea’s Active Transportation Master Plan – such as the paving of Route 105 from Kirks Ferry to chemin de la Riviere (paved in 2015 with further improvements planned for 2016), Notch and Mine Roads (planned for 2016 and 2017), and re-paving of Route 105 south of Old Chelsea Road, will provide safe, higher speed cycling commuter routes to and from the city. For these reasons we recommend the linear park be designed for diverse needs such as lower speed cycling and local dog walkers, runners and walkers.

Q6. What about consulting the public?

A. Chelsea Trails has recommended to the municipality that full consultation of residents in all the neighbourhoods affected by the creation of the linear park should be carried out to ensure we build the strongest community consensus possible. The Municipality of Chelsea has indicated its support for this approach to hold a series of public consultations in 2016. These consultations will provide opportunities for all Chelsea residents to express their views concerning the proposed linear park.

Q7. What would it cost to convert the corridor into a linear park? Who will pay?

A. The Municipality of Chelsea is undertaking a feasibility study which we expect will examine geotechnical, environmental and regulatory issues as well as related infrastructure requirements. All these elements will ultimately impact the cost of the project. Revenue from the sale of rails and ties will reduce but not fully cover the costs of conversion. Total costs will be dependent on the results of this study as well as on the final design of the park and the extent to which the work can be staggered over several seasons Chelsea Trails anticipates that funding for the project can potentially be cost-shared, and that opportunities exist to share funding with other levels of government, not-for profit sources and the business community.

Q8. Who owns the railway corridor which runs the 22 km length of Chelsea?

A. The railway corridor is the property of the Municipality of Chelsea. The property was officially purchased by the municipality of Chelsea in 1987, several years after the Canadian Pacific Railway ceased operations on the line.

Q9. Who owns the steel rails and ties that make up the railway infrastructure?

A. The steel rails, plates, spikes, switches and the wooden ties are identified in the act of transfer as accessories to the rail corridor property and became the property of the municipality when the line was transferred by CP to the municipality in 1987.

Q10. What happened to the tourist train operation?

A. In 1992 the Municipality entered into an agreement with the Conseil de développement touristique Hull-Chelsea-La Pêche Inc (CDTHL) to lease the corridor for the operation of a tourist train.  Since then, several injections of money were made by the federal and provincial governments to pay for repairs to the rail corridor and invest in operations.  Operations were the responsibility of a contractor – Train à vapeur Hull-Chelsea-Wakefield. In 2008 a washout of the tracks shut the train down.  The  CDTHL was restructured into a new entity called the Compagnie de Chemin de fer de l’Outaouais (CCFO). The CCFO sought and received additional government financing to repair the washout, refurbish the Swedish locomotive and cars and restructure train operations.  The CCFO entered into a new lease of the Chelsea corridor with the Municipality of Chelsea.  On June 24th, 2011 a series of major washouts again halted train operations.  Estimates of repair were reported by government authorities to be up to $50 million, although this figure remains unconfirmed.  Since 2011 no train has operated as the washouts have severed the connection with Gatineau at several points.

Given the prohibitive cost estimates for repairing the rail corridor connection with Gatineau,  it is not likely that a train will return. The CCFO has indicated to the municipality its intention to withdraw from the lease on the Chelsea railway corridor and this action is now being finalized.

 Q11. Who maintains the Chelsea railway corridor? 

A. Under terms of its lease, the CCFO was responsible for maintenance. However, since 2011 CCFO has been unable to undertake maintenance activities. Since then, the Municipality of Chelsea has made  repairs on a portion of the corridor within municipal boundaries to ensure the rail corridor is safe for residents using the corridor as a winter community trail.  Most recently, in fall 2014, Chelsea invested in repairing washouts that posed a danger for Chelsea residents and hindered the operation of the Chelsea Community Winter Trail. Chelsea Trails volunteers have regularly contributed to the maintenance by clearing the corridor of brush and trees and maintaining signage.

Q12. How did the Community Winter Trail begin? What use is currently made of the Chelsea rail corridor?

A. In 2004 a proposal was made to create a winter trail along the rail corridor in Chelsea to allow local residents to ski, snowshoe, run, walk and engage in non-motorized activities along the corridor.  This initiative was proposed by the Chelsea Nordiq ski club in collaboration with the Municipality of Chelsea.  The pilot project ran during the 2004-2005 winter season.  An evaluation confirmed that the pilot project was highly successful and of great benefit to local residents. Since 2005 the operation of the Winter Trail has continued with municipal support and with a significant volunteer contribution, first between Chelsea Nordiq and local businesses and since 2009 with the involvement of Chelsea Trails and other community partners and businesses.  The operation of the winter trail has been very well received by residents and the municipality and was officially recognized under terms of the lease with CCFO.  It has also benefited from support by the regional Conseil local de développement (CLD). Chelsea Trails has continued to work with the Municipality of Chelsea to maintain the winter trail and increase community involvement by developing sponsorships and collecting donations to offset the cost of maintenance. The Municipality has supported continuation of the winter trail by contracting to have the trail groomed on a regular basis. Chelsea Trails has assisted  by clearing brush and posting signage. The Winter Trail has become a very popular winter facility for skiing, snow shoeing, sledding, running and walking, providing Chelsea families, seniors, dog walkers and residents with the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities in a beautiful river side setting.

Q13. Who is responsible for grooming and maintenance of the Community Winter Trail? 

A. As owner of the corridor, the Municipality of Chelsea is responsible for grooming and maintenance of the Winter Trail. Chelsea Trails is an active community partner, assists the municipality by undertaking fundraising to help offset grooming costs and by organizing volunteers to cut brush and post signage. The Municipality has contracted with Lafleur de la Capitale for regular trail grooming. Corporate sponsors have generously contributed funds to help offset these costs. Corporate sponsors past and present include Greg Christie Ski and Cycle, Physiosport Chelsea, le Nordik Spa Nature, Chelsea Innovation , Café Les Saisons, Les Fougères, Le Pub Chelsea, Café Biscotti, Lafleur de la Capitale, and other local businesses.  Chelsea Trails has established a Chelsea Community Trail fund and has solicited contributions from  individual donors to help cover trail operation costs.

 Q14. Why not sell the corridor to adjacent land owners?

A. The Chelsea rail corridor is, by all measures, a precious and extremely strategic resource that can benefit the entire population of Chelsea. It therefore should be maintained in the public domain. In the south of Chelsea, part of the corridor is being used for the routing of sewer and water lines being installed for the centre village, and it could potentially serve as a corridor for other future public utilities, should the need ever arise. Across Canada the United States and Europe abandoned rail corridors are being repurposed for alternative public use with the aim of conserving these corridors for public use, including future train service if it would ever in the future be justified.  This movement is termed ‘railbanking’ and is recognized across North America, see: http://www.railstotrails.org/build-trails/trail-building-toolbox/railbanking   Alternative development of the Chelsea railway corridor as a four season linear park would be consistent with a rail banking approach that ensures the preservation of  the corridor in the public domain for the foreseeable future.

Q15. What is the Active Transportation Master Plan and what direction does it provide on the Chelsea railway corridor? 

A. The Active Transport Master Plan (ATMP) was adopted by Chelsea council after two years of development and consultation with community stakeholders.  The plan identifies the existing  transportation and trail network in Chelsea. It provides recommendations on the development and the potential for active, people powered  transportation options for the municipality.  The ATMP identifies the Chelsea railway corridor as a key resource with important potential for the development of a healthy and active community:

3.3 Sentiers polyvalents en site propre — grands axes structurants (AS)

Description du corridor : L’axe nord-sud du chemin de fer entre Gatineau et Wakefield constitue un lien idéal pour les modes actifs. Situé en bordure de la rivière Gatineau, il offre un paysage hors pair, généralement éloigné de la circulation routière et traverse très peu d’intersection. Sa convivialité et sa sécurité en font un lien favorable aux déplacements récréatifs, mais son efficacité le rend également attrayant aux déplacements utilitaires.( Pg. 13)

Active Transportation Master Plan

Map of the Active Transportation Plan

Q16. What are the economic development benefits of a community trail? 

A. What we see are community building benefits that will have economic spin offs for local services and businesses in Chelsea. Chelsea has a brand as an environmentally conscious and an athletically oriented, healthy living community.  The promotion of a four-season linear park seeks to build on the positive experience we have had since 2004 in creating the Chelsea Community Winter Trail.  This builds community connections that make people want to live here and move here. That effect will build on Chelsea’s brand and encourage commercial prosperity.  We have discussed our concept with Commerce Chelsea, the organization representing local businesses. Commerce Chelsea has endorsed the linear park concept as a positive initiative for Chelsea.

Commerce Chelsea letter

 Q17. Could the present tracks be preserved to serve a commuter train?

A. There are several huge challenges to running a commuter train on the Chelsea corridor.  A commuter train option is blocked by the existing washout of the tracks on the border between Chelsea and Gatineau.  This repair would, according to government estimates, cost tens of millions of dollars. We believe that the current population density of Chelsea (pop. 7,200) and La Pêche (pop. 7,600) is insufficient to develop and support a commuter train option at this time.  Industry experts advise that the condition of the current rails and ties are such that they are only appropriate to operate a very slow speed heritage train. The rails and the rail bed date back to the beginning of the last century and require significant work and maintenance to allow any operation.  A modern commuter train option would require new tracks, major rail bed improvement, new ties and switching systems, stations and parking facilities. It would almost certainly also require safety fencing along the whole length of the corridor to meet current safety standards.  This combined with the fact that there have been recent significant investments in the regional road network and the expansion of a new regional bus service does not make a commuter train a likely option at this time.

Q18. Are there other examples of rail corridors being converted to non-motorized trails?

A. There are many examples of railway lines which have been converted to trails. In Québec alone over 5,000 km of trails have been developed under the Route Verte program     http://pistescyclables.ca/RouteVerte/RouteVerte . Much of this network is in former rail corridors.  In this region we are surrounded by examples of conversion of rail corridors into nature and cycling trail notably in the Pontiac, http://www.cycloparcppj.org/index , and between Farrelton and Maniwaki, http://www.tourismeoutaouais.com/en-ca/the-great-outdoors/cycling/veloroute-des-draveurs .  In the surrounding regions, there is also the much cited example of the 230 km long Petit train du Nord, http://www.laurentides.com/fr/parclineaire .

Across Canada this is also a phenomenon although few communities are blessed as is Chelsea with a corridor that is within walking distance for so many residents as well as bordering a beautiful river such as the Gatineau that is the property of the municipality.  See examples across Canada: http://www.railserve.com/Rails-to-Trails/Canada . In Europe this type of conversion is also common. In Spain alone, over 7,500 km of rail corridor have been converted to Via Verdes greenway corridors for active transport, hiking and cycling.

Q19. Who can decide to create a community trail along the Chelsea railway corridor?

A. The Municipality of Chelsea, which owns the corridor and our elected officials have the mandate to make decisions that shape the future of the community.  After due process, consultation, research and consideration of options, the Municipality of Chelsea will decide how this precious community asset is used to best develop and enhance our community.  Chelsea Trails is committed to working with the municipality and with residents to develop this project.