CN to restart stalled Okanagan shortline

Canadian National Railway (CN) has taken back the keys to a bankrupt shortline carrying grain and forest products in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley.

CN announced Thursday it plans to restart freight service on about 75 per cent of Kelowna Pacific Railway’s track and will file to discontinue the remainder.

KPR, which launched in 1999 using CN’s former Okanagan and Lumby subdivisions, had halted operations after going into receivership July 5, ending over 100 years of rail service on the line.

CN chief operating officer Jim Vena didn’t say when the company will resume service on the line, but said the company plans to do so “as soon as we can ensure the track is brought back to a standard to ensure safe train operations.”

Operations are to restart on 156 km of track from Campbell Creek, about 16 km east of Kamloops, through Armstrong and south to Vernon, Lumby Junction and Lumby.

Ironically, a restarted Kelowna Pacific line won’t serve Kelowna, as CN intends to discontinue the stretch from Lumby Junction to Kelowna due to “insufficient freight traffic.” The 60-day discontinuance process, as per the Canada Transportation Act, is to start later this week, CN said.

CN said it has reached “mutually satisfactory” agreements with the line’s bankruptcy trustee; with the line’s main customer, Vernon-based lumber manufacturer Tolko Industries; and with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference (TCRC) and TCRC-Maintenance of Way Employees Division (TCRC-MWED), the unions representing about 35 KPR engineers, conductors and track staff.

“I’m pleased to say that the parties were able to come together to assemble the right business and labour conditions to justify the resumption of rail traffic on the major portion of the KPR as well as a sizeable capital investment required to protect rail service in the region,” Vena said in CN’s release.

TCRC-MWED president Bill Brehl said in a separate release Thursday that 20 staff members are expected to return to work “as early as Monday, with perhaps more jobs in the coming months.”

The Teamsters said their “hard-fought” deal with CN, which still must be ratified by union members, calls for a five-year contract with a total increase of 15 per cent in wages over that time frame.

“Partnering with CN means saving our members’ jobs and restoring a transportation link that is vital to the local economy,” Brehl said, but also noted KPR “was moving about 16,000 cars of products per year on track that is in disrepair.”

CN, he said, “is committed to bringing the track up to standard and that can mean more jobs in so many other parts of the local economy as more and more goods are cost-effectively transported.” — Network

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