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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Proposal could save shortline railway

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Industry has proposed an agreement that, with government assistance, might keep rail service in Grand Forks, B.C., said Mayor Brian Taylor. A group of shippers that use the railway, including Pacific Abrasives and Interfor, contacted Omnitrax, which owns the Kettle Falls International Railroad, the Grand Forks Gazette reports.

"They were looking for an economic solution, and they found they could not find some economic solution exclusive of some government funding," said Taylor.

Omnitrax is looking for financial assistance with infrastructure repairs and upgrades and a commitment to a certain amount of traffic on the line, which will help maintain the infrastructure in the future.

Taylor said the next step is to lobby the province and federal government to help fund the upgrades on the Canadian side of the line. Taylor said municipal funds wouldn't be used for upgrades, but local politicians could take a lead role in lobbying. Taylor said senior government's involvement could be in the form of loans, bonds or grants, but the railway would have to plan for self-sustainability.

"We have to get something back from that," he said. "It can't simply be charity to industry."

Taylor noted that the amount requested for infrastructure improvements was "affordable," though confidentiality agreements prevented him from revealing the exact amount at this time. As well, he said the United States, unlike Canada, already has grant and loan programs set up for private industry, which could help with improvements south of the border.

Taylor said up until now he was skeptical about whether or not an agreement could be reached.

"I didn't see any formula coming out that made any sense, and now with a proposal in front of us, clearly if we can get that infrastructure fixed up and with enough traffic on the line, we can continue to run that service for those businesses and any other businesses that might want to get on board with this," he said.

Although there's no definite timeline for the project, Taylor said there is some urgency from Omnitrax to move forward with the proposal.