Sask. short-line group hopes to own track by September

NIPAWIN, Sask. — Saskatchewan could soon have another short-line railway company, this one operating in north-central Saskatchewan.

Northern Lights Rail is in the final stages of acquiring 56 kilometres of Canadian National Railway track, stretching from Melfort, Sask., to Birch Hills.

Northern Lights organizer Wayne Bacon said the short-line group is hoping to take ownership of the line later this year.

The railway’s board of directors was expected to approve a short line’s business plan April 4.

With the board’s endorsement, the plan would be sent to the province for approval. Government approval is required before financing arrangements can be finalized.

If all goes as planned, Northern Lights hopes to take ownership of the line by mid-September.

Plans are in place to establish grain loading sites at Kinistino, Birch Hills and Beatty, Sask.

The short line, Saskatchewan’s 14th, hopes to move a minimum 400 hopper cars of grain per year, although organizers hope that number will increase over time.

“What we envision is to start off small … and likely move forward from there to make sure that we’re going to be able to handle the grain that we think we’ll (need to) handle,” Bacon said.

“To start, I think we’re putting a figure down of somewhere around 400 cars a year … but we think we can hit 800 cars quite easily, especially the way things are going this year.”

Funding to acquire the track and perform necessary upgrades will come through a combination of shareholder investments and debt financing.

Individual shares are being sold for $5,000 each.

As of early April, the share offering had raised roughly $800,000.

“We wanted to raise about $800,000 and that’s basically where we’re at right now … but I think there’s probably another 20 or 25 producers out there that have shown interest, especially the way things have happened (with rail service) over the last little while,” said Bacon, a farmer from the Kinistino area.

“I think we’ll probably be getting close to the $1 million mark by the time this is all over.”

It remains to be seen where most of the short line’s grain will be shipped.

Northern Lights will connect with the Carlton Trail Railway at Birch Hills, Sask.

CTR’s track runs west to Prince Albert, Sask., and then south to Warman, Sask, just outside of Saskatoon.

However, upgrades would be required on the CTR line where it crosses the South Saskatchewan River, roughly 20 kilometres west of Birch Hills.

Northern Lights traffic could also connect with CN’s St. Brieux line which runs between Melfort and Humboldt, Sask.

At Humboldt, the St. Brieux line connects with CN’s Prairie North line, which runs east and west between Edmonton and Portage la Prairie, Man.

Initially, CN had identified a second section of line in the Melfort area for discontinuance. That section spanned roughly 85 kilometres from Crooked River, Sask., near Tisdale, to Hudson Bay, Sask.

Northern Lights organizers had hoped to acquire that portion of track as well, but CN had a change of heart and has since taken that portion of track off the market.

CN spokesperson John Braley said CN has identified potential new shippers in the area and has decided to retain ownership.

“There is activity up there,” Braley said last week. “I have to be very … careful what I say because of confidentiality agreements….”

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