Access to railroad transportation has been an ongoing concern for municipalities and businesses in the region for years.
Agricultural producers, logging companies, and other large producers from the region bank on reliable train service to get their product to market. Recently, municipalities and industries in Northern Alberta have created the Community Rail Advocacy Alliance (CRAA) to advocate for producers to communicate with the leading railway companies to ensure reliable service.
County of Northern Lights Reeve Terry Ungarian and Northern Sunrise County Deputy Reeve Carolyn Kolebaba say the alliance is comprised of their two counties, the Town of Peace River, M.D. of Greenview, City of Grande Prairie, Mackenzie County, County of Grande Prairie, Athabasca County, Saddle Hills County, Town of Whitecourt, Town of Slave Lake, Town of High Level, M.D. of Peace, Town of Edson, and Westlock County. They also anticipate that other municipalities may sign up to help advocate.
“The municipalities and the industries that have created this alliance are coming together to bring together a unified voice to decision-makers in Edmonton and Ottawa and within CP, CN, and its regular,” says Kolebaba.
“The individual municipalities and organizations have tried for many years to address the ongoing concerns of delays in receiving rail cars, insufficient rail car capacity, and limited servicing of rail lines in winter months,” she adds. “Our ability to participate in local, national, and international markets is being negatively impacted by the items identified above.”
CRAA members are focused on being a united front to provide a bigger voice for their community and regions as a collective group, instead of independently.
“The municipalities also want to be a voice for the industries or businesses that are being unfairly affected,” explains Ungarian.
“Many of the products that are produced in our region must get to ports for export/market. The only feasible way to do this is by rail.”
The alliance was created by municipalities and businesses in the region after conversations were heard regarding the issues getting railcars at desired locations when needed and various other major concerns.
“Many of (Northern Lights) businesses have identified the issues they are continually experiencing by the significant delays in receiving rail cars, insufficient rail car capacity, unfair competition in rail car auctions,” says Ungarian.
“The biggest piece is that these issues hamper our ability to grow our local economy, in a province that has been identified as the fastest-growing province in Canada.”
The municipalities are hoping their communication with both Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) will ensure the companies will acknowledge the ongoing issues and commit to finding a resolution.
At this point, CRAA has not met with the two companies, but are in the midst of creating documentation to present to them in the near future.
“We met with (Agriculture and Irrigation) Minister Nate Horner’s office and are scheduling a meeting with his office,” says Kolebaba.
“CRAA has also connected with MLA Shane Getson, the parliamentary secretary for Economic Corridors, and have sent correspondence to the NDP Critic for Agriculture and Forestry and the Critic for Rural Economic Development. CRAA has also connected federally with Prairie Can and Economic Development Canada to begin laying the foundation for future discussions with the federal government.”
The duo explains the public should be concerned about this issue because it hampers our ability to grow local economies and poses issues getting our products to market.
“Advocate to your local Members of Legislative Assembly and Members of Parliament,” says Ungarian to concerned community members.
“Make sure they understand the effect this is having on our local communities. There are about 1,500 businesses and 200,000 workers regularly impacted in industries that hold more than $90 billion of our province’s GDP.”
Kolebaba and Ungarian are hopeful the rail companies will be interested in addressing the faults in the system and actively work with the alliance to solve issues that are holding their economies back.
“It’s a united voice speaking to concerns that we should not have to deal with,” says Kolebaba.
“It was a guarantee in Confederation that we would (have) service of rail, and it is severely hampered by the business of CN and CP to the pockets of their shareholders.”