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Halt to rail loading site closures sought

A Saskatchewan farm organization has called for a moratorium on closing producer car loading sites.

The Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan said Canadian Pacific Railway’s decision to close 10 locations leaves farmers at a disadvantage.

“Producer car loading is an important source of competition and innovation in Saskatchewan’s agriculture industry,” said president Todd Lewis.

APAS has written to federal transport minister Marc Garneau requesting the moratorium until a full railway costing review is done. The letter also asks for legislative changes to make sure that the requirements for rural and urban siding closures are the same. Urban closures require more notice, Lewis said.

According to the CPR, the following Saskatchewan loading sites could begin closing in mid-September: Tompkins, Midale, Cupar, Markinch, Grand Coulee, Wilcox, Moosomin, Tisdale and Qu’Appelle.

Lewis said six sites in Alberta and two in Manitoba are also slated to close.

In an emailed statement the company said it will remove “a small number of select producer car locations in Western Canada most of which have not been used in years.”

In 2016, according to the CP web-site, 15 producer cars were loaded at Grand Coulee, 10 at Qu’Appelle, five at Midale, three each at Cupar, Moosomin, Tisdale and Wilcox, and two at both Markinch and Tompkins.

Overall, producer cars represent ed less than 0.33 percent of shipments in the 2016-17 crop year, the railway said, and alternative locations are available within 20 kilo-metres of the sites being discontinued.

Lewis said producer car demand has dropped, but the dynamics of the industry mean that could change.

CP said it will pull switches at the sites for safety reasons, but that doesn’t sit well with provincial highways minister David Marit.

He said both he and provincial agriculture minister Lyle Stewart met with the railway and expressed their displeasure.

Marit used to operate a short-line railway and said removing the 20 switches from 10 sites is unnecessary because the only time there is wear and tear on them is when they are actually being used. They wouldn’t cost more than $50,000 to maintain, he said, and once they’re gone they’re gone.

“Why cause bad feelings?” Marit said. “We don’t like this and we’re not going to like this.”

Farmers have the legislative right to order cars but if railways close public-loading sites, that right diminishes. Marit said car unavailability might be the biggest reason sites aren’t being used more and the railways control that flow.

“This just removes another opportunity for a grain producer to do business,” he said.

APAS said if these closures take place the number of producer car loading sites on Saskatchewan CP lines will drop to 26, down from 79 in 2005. Yet the railways are still compensated for maintaining the same number of sites as in 1992, Lewis said.

“Even if they discontinue service, we’re still paying for them,” he said, adding “I think the reciprocal penalty piece of the new legislation may make producer cars more viable.”

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