FILLMORE, Sask. – It was only three weeks ago that the last Canadian Pacific Railway train rolled through town.
However, an excited crowd gathered last week, cameras in hand, to watch a shiny black locomotive bearing a green logo pull grain cars in at Fill-More Seeds Inc.
Saskatchewan’s 11th short-line railway hit the rails Aug. 20, when Stewart Southern Railway began operating on the former CPR line between Regina and Stoughton known as the Tyvan Sub.
Blair Stewart and an investor group bought the line for an undisclosed price.
Among those investors is SeaRice, a subsidiary of Seaboard Corp., which has also bought most of Fill- More Seeds from the Stewart family.
Negotiations to buy the 132 kilometres of track took about three and
a half years, but Stewart said the long process was worth the effort.
“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t excited,” he told the crowd.
Fill-More Seeds is the main shipper on the line and Stewart said it made sense to seek ownership after CPR announced abandonment plans. He expects producer cars and other shippers to use the new SSR.
“The business plan is based on grain alone,” he said.
However, other opportunities exist in the area, including potash and oil.
The track was upgraded in the late 1980s to 100-pound steel and is in good shape, Stewart added.
Most people in the area remember three trains a day.
“Our immediate goal would be for weekly service,” he said.
The first 41 cars went through last week before the opening. For the first year, the train will stop at Richardson, just a few kilometres southeast of Regina, for switching to the main line. After that, the trains will go into the CPR yard.
Wayne Carten, CPR’s manager of network development, strategy and external affairs, said shortlines are good for business because they significantly reduce operating costs, congestion, and wear and tear on roads.
The Tyvan Sub officially opened in November 1904 and was at one time the longest piece of straight track in North America, said Roger Gadd, president of the Saskatchewan Shortline Railway Association.
Stewart said he believed it was now second in the world behind a slightly longer line in Australia.
The opening of the new railway means 1,830 kilometres of short-line track are available to shippers in Saskatchewan.