Back to top

Railway abandonment notice given to the feds

OmniTrax Inc. has given formal notice to the Canadian government of its intention to abandon the Kettle Falls International Railway servicing Grand Forks and northeast Washington State.
The notice to the Minister of Transportation of Canada comes after three years of initial notice to the Boundary region of the planned discontinuance of service. Last week’s notice is the start of a process that will take 120 days, explained Grand Forks Mayor Brian Taylor. The operator must post closure notices with three levels of government – federal, provincial, and local – prior to the closure and each notice must be posted for 90 days.
“Even though OmniTrax is in negotiation with possible new owners for the line, they posted the closure notification,” explained Taylor. “We are optimistic that they are close to a deal.”
Taylor said that the abandonment notices can be pulled at any time and may be being used as a negotiation tactic for OmniTrax in the sale of the line.
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. 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. 
OmniTrax gave notice of abandonment in 2010, meaning the line could be shut down on very short notice. A solution sought by the businesses involved with the shipping line did 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. 
Grand Forks city council further funded the development of a business case outlining options for the local government. The three possible actions to the current threat of the loss of the railway identified were: 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. 

Grand Forks council has been allowing the stakeholders to work with OmniTrax towards a solution. When OminTrax posted the line for sale a number of buyers came forward and stakeholders are hopeful that the line may yet be saved.