The City of Timmins is considering extending rail service to the city's west end as an incentive for local forestry companies to expand into more value-added manufacturing opportunities.
The Timmins Economic Development Corp. hopes to provide some competitive advantages and lower transportation costs for Tembec's sawmill and Grant Forest Products oriented strand board plant by examining the potential of running an 11-mile spur line into their yards.
Rail access was identified by forestry companies as a competitive need during the city's strategic planning process.
"We have the only forestry mills in northeastern Ontario that donÕt have direct rail service into their yards," says Clara Ferrari, a Timmins economic development officer.
At present, Ontario Northland's rail line extends to a point just west of South Porcupine on Hallnor Road in the city's eastern limits.
At one time rail passenger service extended into the downtown, but it was discontinued years ago and the tracks were removed.
Running an 11-mile extension would cost somewhere in the neighbourhood of $35 million to $40 million, though a rail and engineering consultant will solidify those numbers.
The city is looking to the province's rural economic development program through the Ministry of Agricultural, Food and Rural Affairs for about $25,000 funding for an upcoming feasibilty study.
"With the state of softwood lumber, everyone is trying to find ways to become more competitive and cut costs, and freight rail is traditionally lower than shipping by truck," Ferrari says.
Pierre Corbeil, general manager of Tembec's Northern Ontario east operations, says rail access has been a topic of discussion with the company for a decade.
Currently Tembec trucks its product 25 miles through downtown Timmins to the rail depot in Porcupine, where its shipped to markets in the U.S.
"It's a pain, really," Corbeil says, as well as an added cost.
"Rail access is one of the things that would help us business-wise."
Corbeil says not having rail access limits the value-added advantages available at other northern mills.
"We see some big advantages in increased production in Timmins, and the possibility of using the rail line for finished products, chips, or to bring in round wood from areas north of Cochrane.
"We're throwing all the ideas on the table for the business plan for the city," says Corbeil, whose company is prepared to commit money in a public-private partnership should the planning proposal go forward.
The feasibility study, expected to take two months, will identify potential customers, estimate traffic volumes and provide revenue projections in preparing a business plan to meet funding requirements for both federal and provincial funding agencies.
The report's recommendations would suggest the best possible right-of-way in routing rail traffic either north or south around the city centre.