CN sells NWT's lone rail link
Line ties Hay River to the South

by Doug Ashbury
Northern News Services

NNSL (Nov 24/97) - The North's only stretch of ribbon highway has been sold.

Canadian National Railways has reached an agreement with Edmonton-based RaiLink Ltd. for the sale of 1,025 kilometres of track between Hay River and Smith, Alta.

Financial details of the sale to RaiLink were not disclosed -- despite the fact that CN and RaiLink are both public companies.

The line sold does not carry any passenger services.

In the North, the track is used to transport fuel from High Level, Alta., to Hay River. The 320-kilometre run -- about 125 kilometres north of 60 -- takes eight hours.

CN employs nine people out of Hay River -- four pilot the trains south to High Level up to three times daily.

For Brent Nixon, an engineer-conductor who has lived in Hay River for 20 years, and his colleagues, brothers Francis and Paul Delorey, and Cameron Home, the sale raises questions.

Acquisitions always generate pay-cut and job-security speculation.

"Stay (with RaiLink) and we lose our seniority," said Nixon, who has 20 years with CN, said.

Nixon and the Delorey brothers -- each with about 20 years seniority -- could continue on with CN but they would have to move.

"None of us want to go. We have to wait and see what they have to offer," Nixon said.

The deal is to be concluded by March 1.

In all, 76 CN employees will be affected by the acquisition. There should be jobs for everyone, as RaiLink said it will need 80 people to operate the network.

"There are a number of options," CN communications director Jim Feeny said.

CN staff can use seniority and transfer, take a severance package, retire early or join RaiLink, Feeny said.

CN's sale of its northern Alberta-NWT line is part of the company's plan to divest itself of feeder lines to concentrate on longer, heavy-traffic routes.

Feeny said CN, which went public two years ago, does not disclose details on individual sales. Instead, it combines them, and reports the cumulative financial information in year-end figures.

RaiLink will establish a head office at Roma Junction, Alta., just outside Peace River. An operational base will be at McLennan, Alta.

The company started operations in 1986 as Central Western Railway when it purchased 170 kilometres of CN track near Stettler, Alta. RaiLink and its 24.6 per cent owned affiliate, Quebec Railway Corporation, currently operate about 1,600 kilometres of track in Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The Alberta-NWT buy and a CN transfer to the affiliate will raise RaiLink's track to 3,200 kilometres.

On the Alberta NWT rail line purchase, RaiLink president and CEO Gordon Clanachan said: "These lines serve areas that are showing marked economic growth and we look forward to working with the customers and the communities along the lines to meet the transportation needs associated with this growth."