Taylor: Keeping it in the family

The line would make a great rapid transit link between Vernon and Kelowna. It would make an even better recreation trail.

The trains stopped running a year ago.

On July 5, 2013, the Kelowna Pacific Railway went into receivership. I felt a personal connection to that railway. The tracks ran right behind our church. A train went by every Sunday morning in the middle of the sermon.

The engineer always blew his whistle for the level crossing. It sounded long enough for our pianist to match its primary note—an E-flat, I believe.

Since then, Canadian National Railways, owner of the line, has been trying to sell the 50 km line to some other railway company. Any other railway company. Without success.

So, under the legislation by which CN got the land, CN must offer it first to the federal government, then to the provincial government, then to the regional transit authority, and finally to the three municipalities through which the line passes.

The line would make a great rapid transit link between Vernon and Kelowna. It would make an even better recreation trail. The line runs along the side of three lakes—one of them, Kalamalka, rated by National Geographic as one of the 10 most beautiful lakes in the world.

The Myra Canyon Trestles on the former Kettle Valley Railway, high up the mountainside, draw an estimated 60,000 visitors a year, and put some $5 million a year into the local economy. “This could have much greater benefits,” says Duane Thomson, speaking for the Okanagan Rail Trails Society. “This is downtown to downtown, right along the water.

“It could become as famous an attraction as cycling along the Danube River.”

Indeed, it could be the beginning of a cycling and hiking trail using abandoned rail rights-of-way the full length of the Okanagan Valley, from Sicamous to Osoyoos.

But if no level of government buys the land, CN can sell it piecemeal to private buyers. One buyer would break the continuity of this recreational trail forever.

As the Rail Trails website says: “We can transform this wonderful linear property into a lasting legacy that will provide benefits for generations, or we can allow this transportation corridor and last natural lakefront access to be sold off.”

Duane made an interesting aside. “We need to use our connections. Talk to your friends. Talk to your politicians. But we also need clubs and organizations to write letters of support.”

His suggestion makes sense. Organizations prefer to deal with other organizations. As organizations themselves, governments relate better to other organizations than to individuals.

Individuals, you might note, cannot change an organization from outside. They have to get inside, like a microbe or a parasite. You have to belong to a political party, get elected to a charity’s executive, rise to a corporate corner office, before you can affect that organization’s policies.

On the other hand, organizations do influence each other. Businesses develop interlocking boards of directors; charities copy each other’s tactics and structures. Churches—even warring churches—have more in common with each other than with, say, General Electric or Monsanto.

It makes me wonder if organizations—whether for-profit or non-profit—have become a life form. They’re not just collections of individuals. Once created, they develop their own ethos, life force, inertia.

The law recognizes corporations as “persons”—perhaps because we lack the imagination to think of a sentient entity as anything but a person.

Perhaps we should be more open to the possibility that we humans have created something new, that develops a life of its own.

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