In the previous column I stated that abandoned railway lines make excellent trails as they can be changed over without a lot effort and cost. After the Trans Canada Trail (TCT) organization was created the railway companies donated hundreds of miles of abandoned rail beds to the organization. They didn't do that out of the kindness of their hearts, for those gifts they received generous charitable tax credits. I suggest railways that are granted permission to abandon rights of way be required to restore those rail beds to trail use – particularly if they get tax credits for doing so. It's quite a job to pull up rails, ties and stone ballast, but that would be the perfect time to smooth it out properly for trail use.
One abandoned rail line that should be considered for upgrading runs from High River to Fort Macleod. Such a trail could be extended into the Crowsnest Pass by means of a pipeline right of way all the way to Creston BC. At that point it could be linked with some planning into old railway rights of way that stretch all the way from Nelson BC to Hope BC via the legendary Kettle Valley railway trail – much of which is already open to bike riding. Such a route involving hundreds of miles may seem farfetched, and who would use it anyway? Firstly, there is an international community that does bike trail marathons, many of these folks you see on highways in summer. I expect they would choose a safer more scenic route if the trails were on old rail beds and not dangerous busy highways. The other community is from nearby cities – being most folks may not be interested in 100 mile bike trips but are happy to do 50 miles. Its not a pipe dream either – the State of Idaho in the US has done exactly that – converted hundreds of miles of old rail lines into bike trails and created a new tourist industry with bikers coming from all over the country including your humble writer. There is even a possibility of an old rail bed trail link into the Idaho bike trail system from BC.
Skeptics might point out that there are not a lot of abandoned railway right of ways available to make such a network feasible. That is true but we have available across most of this country and particularly in Alberta a vast network of thousands of miles of potential trails. That would be pipeline rights of way – portions of those corridors could be used to create any vast number of interconnecting trails, even through the Crowsnest Pass. Some might point out that pipeline corridors are not as flat as old rail beds – that is true, but most are not 30 degree inclines either – it is doable. Another concern may be the safety aspect of trails going over high pressure pipelines. That should not be a concern being such pipelines already exist right in urban neighbourhoods, even into our homes. I cite a long gas pipeline in Northeast Calgary that is used as a bike/walking trail by thousands of folks on a monthly basis – it stretches for about 10 kms. After 40 years in use no bikers or walkers have been injured or killed by the pipeline. Compare that to the many bikers who have been injured or killed using city roads and highways. Like old railway beds, pipelines tend to be away from roads and are invariably more scenic and peaceful. Better yet, converting some of those pipeline corridors to recreational use would provide pipeline companies with a lot of positive public relations. Just think of the positive image the Energy East pipeline could garner if they proposed to add a bike trail to much of the line – who could oppose that idea? Besides, I'll even bet there is tax incentive that would facilitate building recreational infrastructure. It's a win-win.
There is more – the TCT wants to have the trail completed across Canada by 2017. That won't happen except on paper where the TCT has just decided that entire highways would be designated as part of the trail. For instance the Alaska Highway has now been designated as part of the national trail. Anyone who has travelled that route knows its far from being a bike trail by any stretch of the imagination. We need a bigger trail system but it needs to use what is already available – old rail beds and pipeline right of ways – it can be done. I rest my case.