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Judge says construction on massive CN Rail hub in Ontario can continue — for now

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The Federal Court of Appeal says work on a massive rail-and-truck hub in the Greater Toronto Area can go ahead pending its decision on an appeal of a lower court ruling that halted construction.


The stay issued by the Appeal Court allows Canadian National Railway Co. to continue to build the facility in Milton, Ont., for the time being.


The $250-million project aims to double CN’s existing line of tracks in the area and construct a terminal for containers to be transferred between transport trucks and freight cars.


Federal Appeal Court Justice George Locke said that while a halt to work on the undertaking would have no effect on CN’s long-term viability, any delay is “detrimental to the public interest.”


“The harmful effects of construction emissions appear to be outweighed by the costs to CN of suspending its construction activities, and more importantly, the public interest in the completion of the project,” the judge wrote earlier this month.


Final word on whether work can proceed will rest on a later ruling from the Federal Court of Appeal.


The Federal Court decision in March set aside a green light issued by the federal government in January 2021 and sent the project back to Ottawa for reconsideration — a ruling that is now under review.


The lower court ruling highlighted health concerns around air quality, pointing to the 800 diesel-powered trucks that would make daily round trips to the hub in Ontario’s Halton Region. Four freight trains hauled by locomotives that also run on diesel — the fuel contains toxic pollutants, the judgment noted — would also steam through the terminal each day.


CN stressed that the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) comprises one of the fastest-growing regions in the country, upping the need for freight service.


“The Milton Logistics Hub is critical to handle the growing demand for household goods, consumer products and other necessities of day-to-day life. The hub will connect businesses in the GTHA directly with ports and markets, taking trucks off the road and powering local economic activity,” said CN spokesman Jonathan Abecassis in an email.


The Montreal-based company also pointed out that federal authorization was subject to an extensive environmental review process, resulting in an approval that laid out 325 conditions to protect the community and the environment.


But prior to the government’s thumbs-up, an expert review panel concluded that the rail facility would likely have a harmful environmental impact on “human health as it relates to air quality,” Federal Court judge Henry Brown said in his March ruling.


However, neither cabinet nor then-environment minister Jonathan Wilkinson considered or referred to that finding in their decisions — “inexplicably,” Brown wrote.


The court case pits the federal government and CN Rail against Halton Region and its four municipalities as well as the Halton Region Conservation Authority.


This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 13, 2024. 

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