MILTON, Ont. – It has been almost two years since Canadian National (CN) announced plans to build a new intermodal terminal here – and the frustrated head of a local citizens’ group opposed to the still-proposed facility plans says life remains “on hold” for people who live in the vicinity of it.
“People don’t paint, they don’t move, they don’t expand their homes. All plans that people may have had are on hold,” says Rita Post, president of Residents Against Intermodal Lines (RAIL).
Post says she herself has been neglecting her home-based graphic design business, devoting a lot of time over the last two years to gathering research that will be used to fight CN over construction of an intermodal terminal in south Milton.
RAIL has gathered 1,200 signatures on a petition against the terminal, which CN wants to build on agricultural-zoned land to relieve the strain on its existing Brampton Intermodal Terminal (BIT) and its Macmillan Yard in Concord, Ont.
Post believes CN is dragging things out and saying very little, “hoping people will forget about it.”
CN communications director, Ian Thomson, says the railway is simply not ready to proceed with the next phase, which is filing an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA). The CTA must approve construction of the facility.
“We’re not at that point whatsoever,” he says. “When you file an application with the CTA, you have to have a very specific plan. We’ve done a lot of groundwork. We’ve done the land acquisition, in fact we’ve got more than enough land than we obviously need. We’re still in the data analysis stage.”
CN bought up 800 acres of agricultural land, and officially announced plans for the new Milton terminal on Feb. 19, 2001.
Shortly thereafter, on Apr. 18, 2001, CN called a public information session attended by more than 400 residents at the Halton Regional Centre in Oakville – the only public meeting held.
At that meeting, company representatives outlined CN’s need for the new Milton terminal, which would cover an initial 100 acres but grow to 400 acres over 30 to 40 years. Initially, the Milton terminal would be designed to handle 500 trucks – a total of 1,000 in-and-out truck movements – a day.
But CN officials encountered residents who don’t want an intermodal terminal built in their community, much less on agricultural land. They voiced concerns about increased truck traffic on regional roads, noise, lighting and diesel emissions from the facility that would operate 24 hours, seven days a week.
“It won’t be right up against our houses, but you can’t control the noise. Who’s going to want to live beside it? People don’t want to live near an intermodal yard,” says Post. The terminal would be built with a 300-metre buffer zone.
“It’s a Class 3 industrial facility and it should be built on industrial land,” she says. Post believes the proposed intermodal yard flies in the face of “seven to nine years of work” on official planning for the Town of Milton and Halton Region.
“We realize it’s their neighborhood, but it is a rail corridor,” says Thomson. He says the proposed site is ideal because of its topography, because it’s close to CN’s customers in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and because the rail line is an important cross-border route to Chicago and Buffalo.
CN needs flat, straight, expansive land that could accommodate a 12,000-foot right-of-way handling long intermodal trains of 53′ trailers, Thomson explains. Under federal powers, CN can use agricultural land for railway construction without having it rezoned. Thomson points out that the BIT was also built on agricultural land.
Moreover, he says, CN needs the Milton terminal to relieve a stranglehold on its growing intermodal business.
“We’re near capacity at Macmillan and Brampton,” Thomson says.
CN’s BIT was built more than 25 years ago, and handles about 500,000 intermodal units each year. The railway’s Macmillan Yard in Concord, Ont., was built in 1964 and was never really designed to handle intermodal service.
CN, however, has had to resurrect intermodal service in part of the facility as a stopgap measure, says Thomson.
In 2000, CN moved 1.12 million intermodal units an increase of 13 per cent and saw its intermodal revenue grow by the same amount, to $919 million.
And that growth, Thomson says, has been putting a virtual stranglehold on the railway with its existing intermodal facilities.
Federal Transport Minister David Collenette endorsed the proposed CN facility in a June 1, 2001 speech during National Transportation Week.
He said while it doesn’t undermine the important role of the trucking industry in Ontario, the terminal could cut long-haul truck trips by 300,000 a year.
But meeting transcripts show CN representatives stumbled over questions about whether the BIT would be closed, whether some local roads would need to be closed, which roads trucks would use to access the terminal, and the amount of truck traffic in the area the terminal would generate.
“We didn’t do any prep work for that meeting because time was being taken up for land acquisition,” Thomson concedes.
CN representatives met with Town of Milton officials in the fall of 2001 and again last spring, but there have been no further meetings.
The Town of Milton’s chief administrative officer, Mario Belvedere, is puzzled by the lack of progress.
“We’ve had teams of people in place ready to deal with the issues and concerns, but there has been no activity on this initiative at all, and we’re waiting,” he says.
“Until we file a plan (with the CTA), we don’t have much to talk about. We’ve been as open as we’ve been able to be,” says Thomson.
Thomson says concerns about the effect on Halton Region’s official plan, traffic, waterflow, noise and light are all issues that will be dealt with in public meetings that must follow an application to the CTA within 120 days of filing.
But a CTA application is still “some time in the future,” he stresses.
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