December 31, 2013 - 8:26 AM
VERNON - Okanagan businesses were derailed by the abrupt closure of the Kelowna Pacific Railway in July, and it looks like more uncertainty is to come in 2014.
KPR, which employed some 40 people in Vernon and moved around 16,000 rail cars annually, had been losing money for some time due to a reduced market in the forest industry, according to the company’s trustee.
Okanagan businesses like Tolko, Ashland Chemicals and Gorman Brothers were given no advance notice of the closure, and were left scrambling to make shipments. Trucking became a temporary answer, though not a favoured long-term solution for many companies.
A couple months later, Canadian National announced it was picking up some, though not all, of the pieces. It would resume operation on 75 per cent of the network, but not without doing upgrades first. Trains returned to the northern section of the line Dec. 1. Unfortunately for some Lake Country and Okanagan businesses, CN had no plans of resuming operation of the section between Vernon and Kelowna.
A group of Okanagan manufacturing companies, represented by a Vancouver lawyer, are fighting to regain the defunct section of rail before CN sells it off. They say the permanent loss of rail would have devastating effects on the Okanagan’s unique and interconnected manufacturing industry, and could jeopardize 500 local jobs.
Several parties have expressed interest in reopening the line, according to CN, and will have until Jan. 30 to submit conditional offers.
If efforts to revive the rail are unsuccessful, a group of citizens are mobilizing to convert the land into a recreational corridor. They’d likely need the support of local, provincial and federal governments to do so, and are actively pitching the concept to politicians.
The idea has been received with mixed reactions from municipal government, some hesitant and some eager to come aboard.
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News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2013