Government oil trains were to start running Alberta’s glut of sludgy bitumen to foreign markets July 1 under a US$2.8 billion contract committing provincial taxpayers to the leasing of 4,400 tank cars and guaranteed payments to CN and Canadian Pacific. For the time being, they will be costly ghost trains that earn the railways real money for no haulage.
Author: David Thomas
After five years of internal planning, VIA Rail’s vision of a dedicated, high-frequency passenger railway from Quebec City to Toronto has secured the backing of the new Canada Infrastructure Bank. A C$55 million investment by the bank was announced June 25 for final pre-procurement planning, including the engineering of technical inter-operation with existing commuter lines in Montreal and Toronto.
The viability of one of Canada’s largest rail engineering companies is in question as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau struggles against accusations of obstruction of justice in allegedly attempting to spare the company from a corruption trial.
After months of whining about low market value for its low-grade psuedo-oil, the Alberta government announced in November that it would purchase and operate a vast fleet of 7,000 tank cars and 80 locomotives—arguing, in Canutian defiance of Economics 101, that more supply would push up demand and price. Then, only days later in a panicked and completely opposite action, Alberta imposed production quotas to reduce supply.
While the financially panicked government of Alberta has imposed radio silence on its contentious plan to launch a state-owned fleet of oil trains, CN has teamed with a First Nation to obsolete both tank cars and pipelines in the transportation of bitumen.
Ever since the first rail was laid in 1898 to lift Gold Rush Stampeders over the jagged mountains of the Alaska Panhandle to Canada’s Klondike, the tenuous but irrepressible White Pass & Yukon Route has been rescued from peril by a succession of improbable saviors, one of them the United States Army.
Not for Rachel Notley are Festivus, Yule and other neo-pagan solstice celebrations for the politically minded. No, the Alberta Premier clings to Christmas tradition, or more accurately the toy catalog of yore, with its yummy pages of pointlessly looping Lionel trains.
In a move that it says will increase demand and pricing for Alberta’s tar sands bitumen, the provincial government has affirmed that it will imminently sign orders for two unit-train’s worth of oil tank cars. The deal will be signed by year-end, Premier Rachel Notley declared Nov. 28. The carbuilder was not disclosed.
Even in this new world order, when profoundly held beliefs are cast aside according to the whims of political weather, the Oct. 24 call by the Canadian oil lobby for a government takeover of crude by rail (CBR) is a stunning abandonment of principle.
Montreal’s futuristic, for-profit passenger railway system, Réseau express métropolitain (REM), moved from concept to concrete Feb. 8 with the award of $C6.3 billion of construction contracts by its owner-operator, Caisse de dépot et placement, Quebec’s huge public pension fund.