Recent History – 1999
July 5, 1999
By Kelly Henschel, Daily News Staff
The Berlin Wall of Dawson Creek has come crashing down. Such is the comparison Dennis Meier made in regards to the new deal struck by BC Rail (BCR) and Canadian National Rail (CN) which allows BCR to cross into CN’s territory.
“I’ve always made the comment that 17th Street is like the Berlin Wall,” the local grain farmer says, as the road used to mark the dividing line between BCR and CN tracks.
BCR owns the tracks on the west side of the street, picking up cars from the Cargill and Agricore elevators, while CN owns the rail to the east, servicing the Pioneer Grain elevator and the Agricore elevator east of town.
Now, under the new agreement which started June 27, BCR will place and pick up rail cars from CN’s facilities, as well as their own, and deliver them to CN in Prince George or North Vancouver. Yard responsibilities will also be taken over by BCR.
It’s more of an organizational change than anything, says BCR spokesperson Alan Dever.
“BCR isn’t going to be taking customers from CN as much as doing the switching operations,” he says.
“This deal will benefit both CN and BCR customers in Dawson Creek,” says Wayne Banks, BCR’s vice president of marketing and sales. Dawson Creek elevators will see an increase in train service, which will speed the movement of grain, he says.
“All traffic will flow much more expediently,” he says, “which means northern business will be able to move their goods to market much more quickly, and that makes good economic sense.”
Dennis West, assistant manage of Pioneer Grain, predicts the elevator and their customers will see benefits in the future. While CN only picked up grain cars once a week, BCR will pick it up twice a week, possibly daily in the fall, allowing more grain to be shipped and freeing up space in the elevator.
“There should be better movement on the grain,” West says. “The elevators shouldn’t be as congested as before.” He estimates about 16 million tonnes of grain is exported from Dawson Creek annually.
Since CN only moved cars once a week, if the elevator was full, farmers would either have to wait or find another elevator, he adds. Another benefit of the deal, he says, is the route to Prince George will be shorter with BCR, cutting down the time it will take to get the grain to B.C. markets.
Dawson Creek mayor Blair Lekstrom had been involved with the process of trying to get the two rail lines to come to an agreement in the past.
“I think for years, having two railroads in our city has been as good as it can be, but it’s also created some problems” he says.
In May, 1998, a deal was on the verge of being realized which would allow BCR to ship from all Dawson Creek elevators, but fell through before being realized. However, BCR and CN continued negotiations, and finalized the new deal at the end of June, 1999.
Effective immediately, the deal is part of the reciprocal access agreement made between the two rail lines in 1997 under which they agreed to work together to increase market opportunities in northern B.C.
“We see it as a step in the right direction for transporting goods out of our city,” Lekstrom says. “I think we’re going to see some more activity on the rail lines because of this.”