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Rail-rescue bid wants $3M from province
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Published: July 2nd 2008
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Farmers, reeves and mayors are hoping the Doer government will chip in nearly $3 million to help save a short stretch of rail line in southern Manitoba slated for demolition today.

Rapidly rising gas prices have kickstarted the rescue bid.

"We basically have this week," said Doug Collins, vice-president of the newly-formed Boundary Trail Railroad Company. "The salvage company is starting to take the line up. Time is really critical."

Called the Napinka and La Riviere lines, it's an 80-mile stretch of track that connects Killarney to Morden and then on to the Canadian Pacific Railway mainline. The tracks are part of well over 360 kilometres of Manitoba rail lines that are in the midst of being abandoned, part of the slow disintegration of a network of shortlines that once crisscrossed the province and linked nearly every small town and grain elevator.

Many producers are now forced to truck their grain or livestock an hour or more down the highway -- a much more expensive and much less environmentally-friendly mode of transport.

The loss of a rail line also makes it tougher for small towns and rural municipalities to attract businesses, like an ethanol plant or a meat processing facility that would prefer to rely on cheaper rail transport, said Roblin reeve David Lees.

Tory and Liberal opposition MLAs have been pressuring the Doer government to step in and help save the Napinka-La Riviere shortline and many others like it.

But CP Rail and a salvage contractor are poised to begin demolition this week.

CP spokesman Mike Lovecchio said the company is still open to serious purchase offers, but nothing the company considers serious has so far come forward. He said CP has been up front about its plans to discontinue service on the line for three years, giving plenty of notice to communities and customers.

Collins acknowledged that producers and politicians have been slow to begin their rescue operation, but he said rapidly rising gas prices in the last several months gave everyone the kick start they needed to get a proposal together.

Boundary Trail is selling shares to producers, and industrialist John Buhler has also expressed an interest in helping with funding. About 10 reeves and mayors have also committed to the project.

Under federal rules, rail companies like Canadian National and CP must give rural governments $10,000 every year for three years for every mile of rail line in a municipality that's abandoned.

The Doer government is the deal's missing link, says Collins.

Boundary Trail is asking for $2.7 million from the province, about a third of what the company hopes is needed to buy the line back from CP Rail and the salvage company. It's a deal similar to the one Saskatchewan has in place to maintain shortlines.

However, the Doer government remains mum on the proposal.

Richard Danis, the director of transportation policy at Manitoba Infrastructure and Transportation, said the province has received Boundary Trail's business plan and is committed to making a decision as soon as possible.

     
 

 
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