TWO Canadian short line railways are seeking open access powers to operate on branch lines in the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta. OmniTrax subsidiary Hudson Bay Railway - which took over the 1200 km Churchill branch in 1997 - lodged an application with the Canadian Transport Agency on February 27 for rights to operate on 2400 km of Canadian National tracks. Ferroequus Railway has applied for access to 2000 km between North Battleford and Prince Rupert.

CN and its trade unions are currently exploring the possibility of forming a low-cost subsidiary to lease and operate many of the grain branches, which are threatened by falling traffic as the shippers and farmers are using road haulage to concentrate their business at larger terminals on the CN and CPR main lines.

Both major railroads opposed the idea of open access when the federal government held a symposium in Winnipeg during February to discuss the concept. However, CTA responded that it would consider awarding open access rights if the applicants could prove that the move would be in the public interest.