25 Most Innovative Organizations: Battle River Railway
Short-run farmer-owned railroad keeps Forestburg farms productive
by Alberta Venture Staff
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Senior Executive: Ken Eshpeter
Forestburg area farmers faced a tough choice in 2009. They could allow their only rail link to Vancouver to be sold for scrap or come up with the almost $5 million needed to buy and operate the line themselves.
That’s a lot of money for a group of small-town farmers, but if the line had been shut down, those farmers would have been forced to move their grain by truck to Camrose and then pay a grain elevator to load their wheat onto railcars at an additional cost of approximately $1,000 per railway car. So early in 2009, 151 central Alberta farmers banded together to purchase the short-line railway (and one 3,000-horsepower locomotive) from CN Railway for $4.85 million.
Today, Battle River Railway’s grain manager Matthew Enright says that the line is busier than when it was operated by CN, which is the most efficient rail operator in the country. “Our best year, prior to owning the line, there were 650 cars,” Enright says. “In 2011, we moved 780 grain cars.”
In fact, the co-operative purchased a second locomotive engine in 2011 to handle the additional demand. And while the short line only moved wheat before 2009, today local farmers are moving peas and some barley and canola, while a local fertilizer producer, Edberg Crop Management, moves 94 car loads per year of liquid fertilizer. “I attribute a lot of that to buy-in,” Enright says. “A lot of the local farmers have ownership in the line and they want to see it succeed.”
Battle River Railway, a farmer’s co-operative, paid $4.85 million in cash for control of its short- line railway