Farmer owned Battle River line appears poised to proceed

Farmers in central Alberta have raised enough money to buy a branch line from Canadian National Railway and keep it from being sold as scrap.

Battle River Railway president Ken Eshpeter said the new generation co-op has sold slightly more than $3.2 million in shares toward the $4.85 million cost of the 56 kilometre line.

“It looks like we’re going to be the proud owners of a railway,” Eshpeter said. “I’m as excited about this as I’ve been in a long time.”

The last day of share sales was Feb. 26 to allow the company to get final financing in place by the April 1 deadline.

Agriculture Financial Services Corp., the provincial agriculture-lending agency, has agreed to lend the co-op money to complete the sale.

While the sale of the new shortline from Camrose to Alliance is no longer in question, possible environmental clean-up issues around old bulk stations beside the rail line could delay the ownership date.

“I don’t see it as a deal stopper, but it could be a delayer,” he said.

“Some of the sites have been red flagged for further evaluation.”

A phase two evaluation of the contaminated sites will begin in spring once the ground thaws.

Eshpeter said two-thirds of the money was raised through share sales to farmers. Farmer members own A class shares, plus B class shares that give them delivery rights on the line. Farmers bought $2 million worth of shares and the general public bought another $1 million.

“We have had no support from the provincial government yet,” he said.

CN has agreed to haul grain from the line until fall.

The railway hauled 650 producer cars off the branch line in 2008-09. The Battle River Producer Car Group operated for a number of years before turning into the Battle River Railway.

Eshpeter said the co-op hopes to own its own engines by fall. They would be used to pull grain cars and possibly haul freight or gravel or run rail tours.

“We’ve always said we want to be a very user friendly short line.”

Eshpeter said the group is also interested in West Central Road and Rail’s composite grading system in Saskatchewan, which gives farmers more assurance of the grade they will receive on their grain before it gets to west coast terminals.

“You know when you load your car what the grain is going to grade.”

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