Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 19/6/2009 (4505 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The device allows shippers to measure emissions savings for shipments using rail versus truck and, not surprisingly, demonstrates that shipping by rail is the more environmentally friendly decision.
The association's version of the calculator says it's possible to move a tonne of freight 167 kilometres on a single litre of fuel. CN's calculator is even better. It says it can move a tonne of freight 197 kilometres on a litre.
As well, the railways point out rail traffic emits six times less greenhouse gas than heavy trucks.
This of course came after Canada's two national railways abandoned much of the Western grain-dependent branch-line system. According to a 2007 Transport Canada report on rail transportation, 29,304 kilometres of rail line have been "rationalized" in Canada since 1990. Another report notes that between the late 1960s and the mid-1990s, Canada lost 17 per cent of its branch-line network.
Now that there's nothing left of these lines but a hiking trail, we are told we should do what's best for the environment and ship everything by rail. One wonders whether they will now come out with a calculator that spells out how shipping by rail reduces road maintenance.
You can't really blame the railways for doing what's best for their shareholders. Companies and community groups who tried take over subdivisions and operate them as short-line railways quickly learned what the main-line companies already knew -- they are hardly a licence to print money.
That said, the spinoff benefits to the surrounding communities, not to mention the environment, can be huge -- which explains why the most successful attempts at short-line operations on the Prairies tend to be community-owned.
One of the eight short-line railways operating in Saskatchewan has actually put some numbers to those benefits. The Red Coat Road and Rail Company that operates between Pangman and Assiniboia saves the 300 farmers who use it to load producer cars an estimated $1,000 in shipping costs per car loaded. It has contributed $200,000 to the local area in annual school and municipal taxes over four years, and created another $200,000 in direct spinoffs for the surrounding areas, the company's website says. "That financial contribution doesn't include all the spinoff benefits each time the farmers come to town for grain business and stop to buy groceries or some other goods in their local communities. It also doesn't include the environmental benefit gained from moving grain by rail rather than on the province's highways."
All those benefits come from a 114-kilometre stretch of track. Oh, and it also operates in the black, although many of the Saskatchewan short lines have received provincial government support.
So in a roundabout way, the railways' calculating ways may have provided a useful service. While farmers and municipal officials have never needed a calculator to know it makes more sense for the environment and the economy to move freight by rail, it seems the numbers are catching the attention of provincial and federal politicians who are keen to be "green."
After decades of doing nothing to stop the scrapping of branch-line infrastructure in this province, the Manitoba government finally stepped in to help the fledgling Boundary Trails Railway Company (BTRC) take over a set of tracks in southwestern Manitoba with a $615,000 forgivable loan this spring. The federal government was hot on its heels with another $1 million.
It's the kind of boost 80 local investors needed to get their operation up and running along 37 kilometres of former Canadian Pacific track between Morden and Binney Corner, just west of Manitou. As of Friday, the company was loading its second train -- producer cars destined for the Mission Terminals facility, also an investor, at Thunder Bay.
The Boundary Trails enterprise is one of three short lines operating in Manitoba. A fourth, the Southern Manitoba Railway Company, was owned by a salvage company out of Salt Lake, Utah -- a setup that severed the link between ownership and community benefit.
Although it operated between Morris and Elgin for several years, ultimately the rails were worth more to their owners as scrap iron. They were being pulled up last year just as Boundary Trails was trying to organize to purchase the track located a few miles south.
BTRC has a long way to go to break even on a short stretch of track. Here's hoping this little company serves as a lasting reminder of what could have been.
Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 792-4382 or by email:
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.