• By: OLM Staff

Is this the end of the Prince of Wales Railway Bridge?

I fear for the future of the Prince of Wales railway bridge that crosses the Ottawa River a mile upstream from Parliament Hill. You've probably seen and admired it many times, without knowing its name. Just a short walk from the new Canadian War Museum, the old railway bridge crosses Lemieux Island to Gatineau. Opened in 1878 by its namesake, this is the second oldest of the six bridges that link Ottawa and Gatineau (predated only by the Chaudiere Bridge). Until the startup of the 0-Train diesel-powered light rail line in 2001, it was a working railway bridge, carrying passengers and freight as part of the CP Rail system.

However, while 0-Train service to Bayview Station comes within 250 meters of the southern edge of the bridge and freight trains regularly use the well maintained Quebec and Gatineau railway line to its north, the Prince ofWales Bridge sits unused, except by intrepid folk crossing on foot or bicycle.

Yet looks can be deceiving, as the Prince of Wales Bridge is, under federal railway law, part of an active rail line with no action having been taken to abandon it; the bridge has been certified as structurally sound. And since the start of the 0-Train project, the idea of extending the service across the bridge into Gatineau has been strongly advocated by Transport 2000, the City Centre Coalition and Gatineau's Coalition pour l'avancement du transport urbain, which pushed hard to get light rail service across the bridge only to face consistent — and surprising — rejection by government agencies at all levels.

The City of Gatineau's objections are the most straightforward, but hard to accept: the Societe de Transport de l'Outaouais (STO) is bus-based and wants to avoid the hassle of operating a railway.Yes, but the rail line to the north of the bridge runs close by Les Terrasses de la Chaudiere, rue Montcalm, boulevard St-Joseph, the Department of National Defence's Louis St. Laurent Building, Le Casino du Lac Leamy, and Les Promenades de l'Outaouais shopping centre.And, even though STO buses already clog King Edward Avenue, Rideau Street and Wellington Street in downtown Ottawa, Gatineau wants to add more buses instead of relieving bus congestion here by using the rail line that crosses the Prince of Wales Bridge.

The National Capital Commission (NCC) has never explained its total lack of support for light rail transit service across the bridge, even though the National Capital Act mandates the federal agency to coordinate planning in the National Capital Region. In March, the NCC released a draft Strategy for the Capital's Core, which emphasizes heritage enhancement in order to build Canadians' pride in their capital. For an idea of the NCC's real priorities, recall that they own and operate the Champlain and Portage road bridges, and are covering part of the cost of extending boul. St-Laurent through the Hull sector of Gatineau to link up with the Gatineau Parkway.

The City of Ottawa's transportation planners are voicing the strongest opposition to light rail service across the Prince of Wales Bridge. In 2001, they quietly decoupled the 0-Train line at Bayview Station from the short stretch of railway extending to the bridge. Since then, the City's transportation planners have objected to all attempts —including appeals to the Ontario Municipal Board and Minister of the Environment — to include the bridge in 0-Train planning. After trying to keep the bridge from being bought by the City as part of its purchase of the CP Rail line on which the 0-Train runs, they're opposing requests to include the bridge, which the City now owns, as a possible transit corridor in its official plan.

Once again, no reason is given for the City staff's position, other than the mantra that a study of interprovincial transit must first be carried out.There are two major problems with this: the study is two years late and has yet to start — and use of an existing railway bridge is clearly much less costly and more environmentally friendly than any other option.

If you are tired of the hassles of taking the bus between Gatineau and Ottawa and seeing the long lines of STO buses on King Edward, Rideau and Wellington, while a heritage railway bridge crossing the Ottawa River remains unused — speak up as part of your response to the One Tonne Challenge. I urge all of you who are reading this column to deluge the NCC and the municipal governments of Ottawa and Gatineau with phone calls and e-mails supporting this argument. Tell all your friends. It might lead transportation planners on both sides of the Ottawa River to reconsider their opposition to interprovincial light rail transit service.

Editor's Note: A very well attended rally to preserve the Prince of Wales Railway Bridge was held on May 5 at both ends of the bridge. On May 3, the National Capital Commission announced a long-awaited $350,000 interprovincial transit study that should improve the oddsfor putting the old railway bridge back into service.

By: David Gladstone