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Producers have two months to purchase rail line 0

MURRAY GREEN

Sun Media

Grain producers from Camrose to Alliance want to purchase a rail line to strengthen their communities and save transportation costs. However, the benefits are not limited to producers. All neighbouring communities will feel the impact.

They are calling on all farmers, businesses, various levels of government and investors to share their vision of owning a railway, just as they imagined when they received a toy train at Christmas when they were young boys.

The former Battle River Producer Car Group, which has operated the short-line since 2003, are now in a position to purchase the track to offer an economically sound trans-portation option of grain handling and other products to other local, regional and national markets. By doing that, they will greatly strengthen the local economy with increased business, services and employment in the future.

They will be the first Alberta independent co-op owners after coming up with the winning bid to purchase a rail line from Camrose to Alliance. Saskatchewan currently has 11 such short-line systems that are privately owned, some for over 10 years.

"This project was truly a group effort to get to where we are today. Now the future of this project lies in your hands. Together we have tremendous potential. Rail lines are being pulled up and are disappearing in Western Canada, similar to the elevators. We are trying to be the exception," said Ken Eshpeter, in Forestburg on Oct. 28 at an information meeting. "Buying the rail line is the only course of action for us to take. It is a new model of economic and community development for the future. Rural infrastructure has been disappearing for the last 15 to 20 years. This is an opportunity to change that."

Short-line rail systems in Saskatchewan have actually reversed the trend of young farmers leaving for jobs in the city. "We received the news on Aug. 17 that our bid to purchase the line has been accepted," said Reg Enright of Rosalind, vice-president for the newly formed Battle River Railway New Generation Co-op. "We will purchase the 51.5 miles of track and about 700 acres of land for $4.8 million."

The rail line has been in use by local farmers as an alter-native for shipping their own grain to the coast. In six years, the line has sent 3,100 cars of grain by about 180 farmers. That is an average of 500 to 700 cars a year. Hitting 1,000 cars a year is one of the goals of the group.

"This line has heavy 132 and 136 pound strength steel, which is as heavy as the main regular track lines. We outbid K and S Materials from Salt Lake City, the largest rail steel salvage company in North America. They wanted to salvage the track, but we were able to keep it operating. The steel is worth more than our bid, but we wanted it to ship grain and expand the volume to include shipping other goods."

"We want to expand the amount of business that we have on the line. We had 650 cars filled this year. This year the crops are down so it might be tough to match that next year, but we want to include other businesses and ship goods to keep it busy," added Enright. "During the peak time in 1994, according to the Canadian Grain Com-mission, 2,000 cars were shipped in the area. We certainly have room to expand and grow."

The new railway co-op is ready to sell shares on the track in Class A, B, C, D and E shares. Class A shares are for producers only and are $1,000 each. B shares are $5,000 each and allow for a no service fee for a rail car, Class C are open to everyone and are $1,000 each and could offer dividends within five years, Class D are $10,000 and comes with a voting right and Class E are for municipalities to lend their support to the community.

Cars currently stop in Kelsey, Rosalind, Heisler, Forestburg, Galahad and Alliance, where grain producers fill them for shipment to Vancouver. There, they are loaded on to boats for shipment around the world. Most towns on the line have hoppers to fill and use prior to the rail cars arriving.

"Rail pro-ducer cars are a really important option so we don't have to rely on inland terminals," said Enright. "Owning the line means producers will have two days to load rather than one and will still be able to realize the average $1,000 savings in elevation charges. It adds up over the years."

The new generation co-op has until Jan. 15 to raise at least $1,8 million to meet the criteria of keeping the line and avoiding salvage. The producer car group board mem-bers are willing to contribute about $500,000 to get the pro-ject rolling and to show they are committed to make this venture a reality and viable.

They are asking other producers and inves-tors to help them raise the money to secure the pur-chase of the rail line for current and future development. For more information on the rail line or to invest contact Reg Enright at enright6@syban.net or phone 780-375-3782 or call president Ken Eshpeter in Daysland at 780-374-2403.