Grand Forks council funds railway study

Mona Mattei
By Mona Mattei
August 19th, 2010

Due diligence and the need for quality information were the themes underlying Grand Forks city council’s decision to move forward with a developing a business case for the Kettle Falls International Railway. The information that will be put together for council, they hope, will guide their future decisions about the railway in collaboration with the business stakeholders.   Although there were many cautions raised at a public meeting about the proposed project held on Aug. 9, council voted unanimously to spend $70,000 to hire one of the few firms in the province who are qualified to do the job. Council is looking for information about the engineering of the line, costs for operating and upgrading, and an analysis of the potential to keep the line running, as well as costs of the same.   “I need this information so I can make an informed decision whether or not to proceed with a business plan. Without the business case information placed before me, I can’t make an informed decision. I want to do what I can to keep the jobs in our community so that our businesses will not be negatively impacted, that our schools will not be negatively impacted,” explained Councillor Christine Thompson, sentiments that the other councillors agreed with in their comments.   Councillor Gene Robert felt that he couldn’t face himself if he did not follow a detailed process in ensuring that future decisions are sound. “I echo what Councillor Thompson said about the due diligence. But a very important group of people that we represent on this council are the men and women that go to work at Roxul, Pacific Abrasives, Interfor. For every direct job affected there’s two indirect jobs affected. We need to have the information to make a good decision. I would not be able to get up in the morning and look at myself in the mirror and know that I didn’t get the most precise and specific information that I need to make a decision.”   The three possible actions that are the solutions to the current threat of the loss of the railway are: to provide the money that OmniTrax Inc. feels is needed to upgrade the rail line and hope that they continue to operate the line; to purchase the line outright and then do infrastructure upgrades and operate (subcontract) the line; or to allow the line to be abandoned and deal with intermodal transport. Councillor Chris Moslin feels that those decisions need to be based on professional input.   “This will provide us critical information from professionals in a field that none of us have expertise on. We expect this report to be done within 10 – 12 weeks. We will be back to the public in that timeframe. You will be hearing from us again. We will have the business case in front of us and we’ll be asking your assistance and your thoughts on which direction to take,” said Moslin.   Councillor Joy Davies and Cher Wyers also reinforced council’s need for information to ensure due diligence on their part, and for the future of the economic stability of the community. Funds for the project will require an amendment to their annual financial plan. A consortium of consultant led by Davies Transportation consulting will be taking on the job.   Since the railways owners, OmniTrax Inc., gave notice in 2008 of their intention to close the international rail line supporting shipping for businesses from Grand Forks through to Kettle Falls a group of business stakeholders and local government from both the Boundary and Washington State have been trying to find a solution to the dilemma. Recently a presentation from the stakeholder group to the City of Grand Forks proposed that the solution would be for the city to either purchase the line, or invest in the needed infrastructure upgrades, or both. Since OmniTrax has already given notice of abandonment, the line could be shut down on very short notice. A business solution sought by the businesses involved with the shipping line has not resulted in a viable option to date. An economic impact study commissioned by the stakeholders and paid for by the businesses using the line indicated severe economic problems for the City of Grand Forks should the line be abandoned.   Link:

Kettle Falls Railway Abandonment Impact Study 

Categories: Politics