No funds coming for rail line from federal government

by Phil Ambroziak

In spite of a lack of federal funding, North Central Rail Ltd. refuses to have its efforts to purchase a stretch of track in Saskatchewan’s northwest derailed.

“There was a (purchase) deadline in February, but there was also an application made for an assessment of net salvage value for part of the line – this has resulted in an extension to that deadline,” said Meadow Lake MLA Jeremy Harrison. “But, I also understand there is no specific commitment of federal funds in the federal budget, which is disappointing.”

Harrison went on to state North Central Rail (NCR) was hoping there would be a federal commitment that would have matched, if not exceeded, the provincial government’s commitment of $3 million, as well as a no-interest loan for a portion of the purchase price.

“There is a process we are currently undertaking that resulted in the deadline being extended,” reiterated NCR committee chair Ray Wilfing. “Now, we will just have to wait and see if the funding will be available.”

In an effort to provide an alternate means of transporting forest products to consumers, the NCR committee has been in negotiations with the U.S.-based company OmniTRAX to purchase 320 kilometres of rail between Meadow Lake and Speers. The group has also been in talks to purchase a smaller, CN-owned line between Speers and Denholm.

The price tag is $25 million to purchase and refurbish the track.

“I spoke to a member of the committee subsequent to the federal budget and we are going to meet again to see what the options are going forward in the absence of federal support,” Harrison added. “I am still very hopeful, but we have to be realistic about what the options are going to be.”

Wilfing said everything depends on the findings of the ongoing inspection and what the subsequent evaluation report from the Canadian Transportation Agency says.

Desnethé—Missinippi—Churchill River MP Rob Clarke said it would have been worthwhile for the NCR project to have been paid for through the provincial territorial base fund. This fund, which saw $175 million issued to the province for infrastructure projects, was expected to last from 2007-2014.

“There will be no new money (for this fund) until 2014,” Clarke said.

George Stamatinos, assistant deputy-minister, policy and programs with the provincial Ministry of Highways and Infrastructure, however, said it was not possible to fund NCR’s efforts with this money.

“All provinces and territories, under the Build Canada Plan, received $175 million in 2007 from the federal government for infrastructure,” Stamatinos explained. “It had to be spent over a period of seven years and the identified projects had to be approved by both the provincial and the federal governments. The process started in 2007 with the most recent project being approved in March 2011. All the money has been committed, so this particular project would have had to been identified and approved long ago.”

Meanwhile, Clarke said he continues to work toward finding some sort of funding source to assist NCR.

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