Branchline Abandonment

With the spectre of branch line abandonments fresh on everybody's mind (Smith's Falls and Waltham) and with the prospect of another problem with the Maniwaki Subdivision, I thought it might be useful to review the procedures that come into play when a railway wishes to abandon a line.

Railway abandonments are covered by the Railway Act and come under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Transport Commission - not the Minister of Transport. (Hold those letters to Mr. Axworthy, please!)

If a railway company is losing money on a line, it may apply to abandon the line before the Canadian Transport Commission. The C.T.C. then verifies the figures and, if there is a loss, the railway receives a subsidy to make up its losses. Please note that the railway cannot apply for a subsidy; the only way it can make up its losses is to apply to abandon the line regardless as to whether or not it wishes actually to terminate operations.

At this point, it should be stressed that the railway's losses are being covered and it is ambivalent whether or not the line is abandoned. The next step is with the C.T.C. which must decide whether the line should be abandoned or whether it should be retained in the public interest. The C.T.C. may decide to hold a hearing. It almost invariably does so if there is any traffic at all although it is not required to do so in law. At the hearing the railway has to present its case - I think this is a little unfair because the question is really one of "public interest". Unfortunately, the system, is an adversary one.

A couple of points must be made at this stage. The costing figures used at the hearing and in all public notices are the figures developed by the C.T.C. and not the railway. Any attempt to discredit there not only is very difficult to sustain but is an attack upon the C.T.C. which body one is trying to influence to retain the line. (Don't bite the hand that may feed you!) There is frequently criticism of the railway that it is trying to load the costs to influence the closure. There are stories that ties are replaced to increase the costs. Items such as ties, ballast, rails, etc., are capitalized. That is, to say the railway is only allowed to claim a portion of the actual cost incurred each year. If a tie has a life of, say 25 years, the railway can only claim one twenty-fifth of the installation cost each year.

At the hearing, the best approach is to look at the public interest. We must convince the panel of C.T.C. commissioners that the line must be retained at public expense in the public interest. It is of very little use going after the railway. It may create some cheap laughs but it won't achieve very much in front of the Commissioners.

After the hearing the C.T.C. has two choices. It may order the line retained or abandoned. If the line is ordered retained, the subsidy continues and the case must be heard again within five years. This is the stage which the Maniwaki Subdivision has reached. It has been ordered retained but must be reviewed shortly. At the review, the whole procedure starts again with the possibility of hearings and further retention.

If the C.T.C. orders the line abandoned, it must specify a date upon which operation must cease. There is an appeal to this process. The Review Committee of the Canadian Transport Commission can be asked to review the decision. The committee will examine the case to ensure that all pertinent facts were considered and will take into account any new facts.

If this decision is upheld, there is one final avenue open to the branch line retentionist. One can petition the Governor General in Council on the grounds that there was an error in law. This is a story in itself. Let's hope the Maniwaki Sub. doesn't get to that stage.

Bytown Railway Society, Branchline, April 1984.

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