Transportation

Halifax Transit wants $500,000 for commuter rail plan

Money would be used to hire staff and start office

In the proposed plan, the train station in south-end Halifax is a stop on the commuter rail.   Seth Earle

Halifax Transit is hoping to get rolling on a potential commuter rail system for the Halifax Regional Municipality.

The proposed transit budget for 2018-19 includes $500,000 to develop a rail system plan, which would be implemented the following year. The budget was presented to regional council on Wednesday.

A first step is to hire “staffing expertise” to get the commuter rail office started, said Coun. Tim Outhit, in an interview Thursday.

“Commuter rail is something that I’ve been advocating for a long time,” said Outhit, the representative for Bedford-Wentworth. A commuter rail system would go through his district and bring commuters to downtown Halifax.

“Now with the integrated mobility study the experts have come out and agreed it really is the best solution for this corridor,” Outhit said.

Regional council initiated a commuter rail feasibility analysis from Halifax to Windsor Junction and Enfield corridor in 2012. In a 2015 report, consultant CPCS concluded that “commuter rail in Halifax is technically feasible, but economically not viable.”

Last month, council voted to adopt the Integrated Mobility Plan, which called for commuter rail in Halifax within the next 10 years or more.

Outhit said the economic factors surrounding the project are more favourable now than they were in 2015.

“We have Via Rail wanting to partner with us now, and we have federal and provincial funding sources that are going to be coming available over the next year,” he said.

Outhit expects a commuter rail would have a positive impact on his community. Traffic congestion has been a problem and the rail should, in theory, alleviate the problem.

He also believes it will help further development and growth, as there are “developers hoping to put thousands of people along the Bedford Highway.”

“We need to figure out how we’re going to move the (new people) and when we figure out how we’re going to move them, then we can figure out where to allow the development,” he said.

Coun. Lisa Blackburn, who represents Middle/Upper Sackville-Beaver Bank-Lucasville, said she is excited and believes the rail would be “transformative.”

Blackburn views the $500,000 as more of a placeholder for the project and notes that council hasn’t yet approved the 2018-19 budget.

“But certainly there is an understanding that is the direction we’re moving in,” she said.

Outhit’s outlook is that HRM residents may be riding the rails as soon as 2020. He said “it’s a now or never decision” that needs to be made on the rail system.

Blackburn agreed that a two-year time frame is doable. She said most of the rail infrastructure is already built; it’s more a matter of purchasing train cars and organizing operations with Halifax Transit.

“Certainly the one passenger, one car, all go out to the peninsula scenario can’t work for us forever,” Blackburn said.