The Boundary’s only rail line to the U.S. may soon close down, forcing its local users to consider more costly ways to transport their products to American markets.
OmniTRAX, the American owner of the Kettle Falls International Railway which connects Grand Forks to Laurier, Wash., announced in March that it planned to discontinue all operations along the Canadian stretch of the line within the next three years. A spokesperson for the company confirmed May 27 that the Ministry of Transport has approved its plan.
Closing the line would force its two major users, Interfor Grand Forks and Pacific Abrasives & Supply Inc., to use trucks to ship their products to the south.
Approximately 70 per cent of Interfor Grand Forks’ product gets shipped by rail right now, mill manager Dave Parsons said last week. “It’s significant for us.” Parsons said that, typically, Interfor spends between $11 and $15 million to ship by rail – approximately 1,000 cars per year.
To ship by truck, Parsons said, will add another $15 per thousand board-feet – another $1.5 million or so per year, based off last year’s numbers.
Asked why the company is looking to offload the Kettle Falls International Railway, OmniTrax’s president Sergio Sabatini said in a statement that “the KFR is not a good fit in our portfolio of rail properties and we have updated our three-year plan changing its status to a discontinuance candidate.” Sabatini added that they would be look to sell the track before abandoning it. “We are currently in the process of speaking with interested parties and working toward the sale of the property to new owners,” Sabatini said.
Parsons said that Interfor would not be looking to take up ownership. “No, I don’t believe so,” he said. “We’re a lumber products company and that’s what we’re really good at. We do happen to own a very short rail line, but that’s not the business we’re in.”
In 2008, OmniTRAX announced their plans to abandon the line, but never did. At the time, stakeholders commissioned a study to examine the impacts of the decision. In addition to added shipping costs for users, the report noted that local roads would bear much more wear (Parsons said that about three trucks of lumber can fit on a rail car).
“Quite clearly the case can be made that the proposed abandonment is not an acceptable nor an attractive option;” the 2008 report said, “not for the shippers who use it, their employees, their suppliers, nor their customers.”