Closed railway could cut 200 miles on way to Churchill

MISTATIM — The Tisdale east subdivision railway track was closed over a decade ago, and its future looks even more grim.

The railway was the subject of a meeting held by the Hudson Bay Route Association on March 21 in Mistatim.

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At present the Canadian National Railway (CN), which owns the subdivision, doesn’t want it.

The company estimates repairs to damage to the tracks, including tree growth, could cost $12 million.

The association wants the railway running again.

“I think they need to understand that if it’s gone, and this was pushed across numerous times today, that if this chunk of rail line disappears, it’s not going to come back,” said Elden Boon, president of the association.

“It’s about retention of our railroads. We’ve lost so many in western Canada here in the last 15, 20 years.”

Boon added this railway had bearing on the future of the Port of Churchill.

The Tisdale east subdivision from Tisdale to Hudson Bay not being in operation means grain from Prince Albert and further east must travel an extra 200 miles, through Canora, to reach Churchill.

“This has an impact on all of north east Saskatchewan,” Boon said. “The investment that’s going into the port and the railway and they’re looking at a full service port for import, export. I think we need the rail systems to accommodate that.”

John Brayley, with CN, spoke at the meeting organized by association. He said the next step to discontinuing the railway is for CN to put a notice in a paper, which is planned for September.

“That notice will have in it a request for interested parties to step forward to acquire a line for continued railway operations,” Brayley said.

Private parties have 60 days to step forward. If no private parties purchase it, it will be offered to municipalities or the province to buy. Each government has 30 days to accept it.

“They have the rights after we try to offer it to private individuals. If we can’t find somebody we got to offer it to governments. They can acquire it at that time if they wanted to.”

Brayley spoke critically of the economic opportunity the railway could present.

“They would need an awful lot of business to make it work,” Brayley said. “If I were a taxpayer I would ask for a business case before the RM goes to [buy it]... because at the end of the day it’s going to be the taxpayer paying for it.”

Brayley said his support would wholly depend of the business case.

“That’s what elected officials have to do, they have to convince us that’s a proper position we have to make or else they’re out of the office next term.”

One challenge Boon mentioned was the cost of interswitching.

“Once they come off the short lines you’re interswitching,” Boon said. “Then, in this case, if this Tisdale sub was a short line you got CN, then you got a short line again, then you got CN and Hudson Bay, and then you go to a short line at the quad. Every time you switch right now is $150 a car. There is a cost there which the short lines have to bear. That’s just a financial thing that doesn’t sit well with them, I’m assuming. It wouldn’t sit well with me if I owned a short line.”

He said there needs to be new legislation that allows interswitching further so the short lines have an opportunity to move their product further in.

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