Canada’s two Class I railways are pushing ahead with line sales under the terms of the Canada Transport Act.

Canadian National set off a major controversy on November 15 when it announced the sale of 1300 km in northern Manitoba to Colorado-based OmniTrax. The network comprises a main route from CN at The Pas to the port of Churchill on Hudson Bay, together with branches to Flin Flon, Lynn Lake and Thompson.

The Council of Canada, which promotes national interests against US economic and cultural encroachment, claimed that ’allowing vital rail lines to fall into non-Canadian hands would be one more step in the Americanisation of Canada,’ and called on the federal government to halt the sale. CN President Paul Tellier said the OmniTrax bid was stronger from both operational and financial standpoints than two Canadian offers. The deal safeguards access to the line for VIA Rail passenger services.

Early in November CN sold 55 km from Hawkesbury to L’Orignal and Glen Robertson to Ontario L’Orignal Railway Inc, a RailTex subsidiary. On December 1 CN handed over the 235 km Matapédia - Chandler line to Chemin de Fer Baie des Chaleurs, a subsidiary of Québec Railway Corp. VIA Rail Canada has a six-month agreement for its thrice-weekly Montreal - Gaspé Chaleur to use the line, pending negotiation of long-term access.

Canadian Pacific announced on November 22 it was to lease 616 km of its grain branches in northern North Dakota to the Northern Plains Railroad from mid-January. NPR will operate local trains to an interchange with CP at Thief River Falls, Minnesota, and maintain the track, but CP will continue to provide wagons and retain responsibility for marketing. The same day CP offered for sale its 64 km Manitouwadge branch, which connects with CP about 50 km east of Marathon, Ontario. o