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Railway stays open for time being

Kettle Falls Rail cars at Pacific Abrasives waiting to be loaded; Photo, Mona Mattei

OmniTrax sent a glimmer of hope to stakeholders in the Boundary region this week when they announced that they will work with the different parties to try to keep the railway from Grand Forks to Kettle Falls, WA  running. A meeting last week between the businesses reliant on the railway and the owner of the line, OmniTrax, in Colville, WA was successful in an agreement to explore the continued operation of the line. 

The agreement also included the development of an operation plan with time frames and deliverables for the Kettle Falls International Railway (KFR). The plan will be completed by mid-December and the services of the line will continue for the immediate future. 

"Services will continue on the line for the foreseeable future. As we discussed, at some time in the future we may need to proceed with a notice of abandonment, but we will let you know in advance if that becomes neceessary. In the meantime, both KFR and the shippers are working hard at finding a viable way to maintain the rail service on the San Poil Subdivision," explained Mike Ogborn, manager at the KFR.

Regional director and chair of the Boundary Economic Development Committee (BEDC) Grace McGregor is pleased with the result of the meeting.

"The BEDCis working hard with the shippers and all concerned parties including Washington state to try to find a solution to the closure of the rail line, a closure that would have a very negative impact on the Boundary as a whole," said McGregor. "Protecting the jobs we currently have in our area is imperative, therefore we are very pleased to see Mr. Ogborn's message of hope which gives us more time to reach a positive solution."

Craig Dohm, of International Forest Products (Interfor), has been acting as the lead spokesman for the businesses involved in the negotiations. The shippers have committed to prepare a workable solution.

"The meeting was very productive and we are pleased with the progress that was made," said Dohm. "There is still a lot of  'heavy lifting' to do and the ultimate solution will require participation by all stakeholders."

The initial letter advising that OmniTrax intended to abandon the rail line from Kettle Falls through to Danville was sent to the businesses and local government in the fall of 2008. The scheduled date of abandonment was Oct. 31. The stakeholders and local government representatives have been working towards a resolution since the announcement, but with little success until this week. The key Grand Forks based businesses that use the line are Pacific Abrasives and Supply Inc. and Interfor.