September 30, 2013 - 10:56 AM
OKANAGAN - There’s widespread relief that rail will once more connect the dots for Thompson-Okanagan businesses.
Companies, including Tolko Industries Ltd., Rogers Foods and Gorman Brothers Ltd., are regaining access to portions of the former Kelowna Pacific Railway. The Canadian National Railway announced Thursday it will be taking over 75 per cent of the network, but it’s the end of the line for the section between Lumby junction (the split at Kalamalka Lake) and Kelowna. Trains will resume service towards Lumby, but won't run towards Kelowna.
Marj Wiens, with Gorman Bros. in Lumby, says their lumber business was at a standstill after KPR shut down without notice July 5.
“It’s a huge relief to get the service back,” Wiens says.
Shipments were put on hold over the last three months, which Wiens says has “severely impacted” the company. Gorman Bros. has to get their product to the rail yards in Kamloops somehow, and unsure of the railway’s future, they were bracing to start hauling by truck.
“It’s more costly. It uses a lot of fuel, and moving loads on the highway is not very safe,” she says.
The rail reopening can’t come soon enough. The next 6-8 weeks CN expects it will take to get it running again will continue to hinder Gorman Bros.
Rogers Foods, a flour mill in Armstrong that distributes across Western Canada and Ontario, also expressed relief that the line is reopening.
For Tolko Industries, it’s mostly good news. The northern route can go back to business as usual. Trucks that replaced the stretch between Vernon and Kelowna will simply carry on as they have for the three months since KPR went into receivership.
“We used it (route from Lumby junction to Kelowna), but whether it was enough to reopen it, that was CN’s decision,” Lockyer says.
Before it resumes service, CN is conducting improvements on the working parts of the network, which run from Campbell Creek, near Kamloops, to Vernon to Lumby. CN would have had to consider if upgrades on the Lumby junction/ Kelowna route could be justified.
Using trucks is nothing new for Tolko, even before KPR went into receivership. Company spokesperson Janice Lockyer says the breakdown for rail to truck transport is around 60/40.
“It’s not our first foray into trucking,” Lockyer said. “We’ve always used it when it makes sense logistically and economically.”
Trains moving across the region means at least some rail employees will be heading back to work. The Teamsters Canada union says it was a tough two weeks of negotiations, but they’re happy with the outcome, which includes a five year contract and 15 per cent wage increase.
“I lived and worked in the Okanagan for 30 years and I know how important the railway is to the area,” William Brehl, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference says.
“Partnering with CN means saving our members’ jobs and restoring a transportation link that is vital to the local economy.”
Twenty workers will be back on the job as soon as Monday, possibly more in coming months. New management means new tracks.
“KPR was moving about 16,000 cars of products per year on track that is in disrepair,” Brehl says. “CN is committed to bringing the track up to standard and that can mean more jobs in so many other parts of the local economy as more and more goods are cost-effectively transported.”
To contact the reporter for this story, email Charlotte Helston at email@example.com, call (250)309-5230 or tweet @charhelston.
This story was edited at 10:15 a.m. Sept. 28 to clarify that trains will run through part of Vernon, up to Kalamalka Lake, but won't continue on towards Kelowna from Lumby junction.
News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013