Open access denied
AN APPLICATION by two operators seeking access to Canadian National's tracks (RG 4.01 p210) was rejected by the Canadian Transportation Agency on May 3. Hudson Bay Railway, owned by US short line operator Omnitrax, sought authority to collect grain from silos and haul it over 2400 km of CN track in Saskatchewan and Manitoba to reach its own route to the Hudson Bay port of Churchill. Ferroequus Railway likewise wanted access to 2000 km of CN to haul grain from North Battleford, Saskatchewan, to the Pacific port of Prince Rupert.
Although the applications were backed by the Canadian Wheat Board and both provincial governments, CTA said it had to dismiss them because they were 'beyond the scope' of its rules. The sticking point was the intention to load grain at points on CN's network. The National Transportation Policy did not permit solicitation of traffic on a competitor's line.
CN dismissed the Omnitrax proposal as 'an abusive process designed to generate political pressure to change federal legislation [in ways] that would damage Canada's railway system.' But the decision conveniently clears the way for CN to lease 1600 km of low volume branches to Prairie Alliance for the Future.
An alliance between grain producer co-operatives, local communities and the Brotherhood of Maintenance of Way Employees, PAFF is intended to act as both a shipper and a non-profit short line operator, handing over loaded cars to CN when they reach the main line. The theory is that operating costs can be cut, so farmers will save money, BMWE workers will keep their jobs, and CN will retain the profitable trunk haul to the port.