Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Omnitrax committed to safety, environment

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OmniTRAX's plan to ship light sweet unrefined oil from The Pas to Churchill, and then on to markets in eastern North America and western Europe, has raised issues that need to be addressed.

Omnitrax Canada is a Manitoba company, run by Canadians. We live in Manitoba and have employees who live and raise their families here. Omnitrax bought the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill in 1997 because we believed in the promise of the north. Since then, we've invested $110 million into the rail line and port, which is in addition to the $40 million Manitoba and Canada have invested in the rail line.

Much of that investment has come within the last five years. As a result, we have seen a dramatic reduction in rail incidents, while also achieving significantly improved travel times along the Bay Line. Most importantly, the improvements to the rail line between The Pas and Churchill stabilized the Bay Line and made it safer.

Shipping oil and gas along the Bay Line and through Churchill is not a new concept. Petroleum products have been shipped up to Churchill safely for more than 50 years.

There has never been an oil spill along the Bay Line or in Churchill. It's not credible to claim, as some have, that it's certain this will happen. It's also a disservice to our employees who work hard every day to ensure that we safely move passengers and product through the north.

We have extensive training and contingency measures in place. We meet, and in many cases exceed, all government regulations. Our company has significant experience transporting petroleum products using leading rail-safety procedures that we regularly review. We partner with leading industry, health, safety and environmental experts to advise on all areas of the business, including the safe handling and transportation of petroleum. We will continue to make every effort to ensure safety comes first. Two years ago, Ottawa legislated the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's monopoly, creating an entirely new grain market. Since then, Omnitrax has redoubled its efforts to diversify the commodity mix the railway and port handle. It is clear transporting just grain will not be enough to sustain our business. In the federal-provincial task force on the future of Churchill published in January of this year, both governments recognized shipping light sweet crude is an opportunity worth exploring.

We're committed to getting this right. We agree safety and the environment must receive foremost consideration. We have already met with and listened to community leaders and citizens in towns located on the Bay Line, including The Pas, Thompson and Churchill; with First Nations; with representatives of towns and hamlets in Nunavut; and with first responders. We will continue to listen to and meet with all those concerned.

 

Merv Tweed is president of Omnitrax Canada.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2013 0

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