A new rail-based initiative, Weyburn Industrial Transload, is getting close to when they will be able start up, with some details needing to be finalized in the next while, members of the Weyburn Rotary Club heard in a Zoom presentation on Thursday.
Carter Stewart is the manager of the new venture, and he provided a bit of an update about how the project has been progressing since it was announced earlier this year.
He and his father were founding members of Stewart Southern Railway, which was a shortline railway that ran from Stoughton up to Regina. The Stewarts are no longer involved in the running of the shortline, but they still have shares in the company.
For WIT, about 6,500 feet, or just over a mile, of rail track has been laid in place on a parcel of land located a mile and a half south of the Ramada Hotel, or just west of South Hill.
“This idea came about two years ago, after I saw a transload site in downtown Windsor,” said Stewart. “We’ve been kind of working on this for the last two years. Even with the coronavirus, we’re excited to be up and running within a couple of weeks.”
The transload facility will bring in or load out various commodities by rail car, said Stewart, noting he doesn’t want to specify which commodities at this point until more of the details have been finalized for the company.
Stewart said there are other transload facilities around, but not very many privately owned ones like this facility will be.
Asked how many people will be employed, Stewart said he is hoping to have around five people working by next summer, including himself.
As the business grows and becomes more well-known in the coming years, he is also hopeful they will be able to add more track and more employees also.
Asked what expectations he has for business to pick up for the new operation, Stewart answered, “I hope rather quickly, I’m confident even with COVID.”
On the possibility of rail car dismantling, he noted they are looking into that, as long as there is track space available, but added, “When that will happen, I’m not too sure.”
At the most basic level, Stewart explained, WIT is “providing a service that allows people to access rail, for people who could not previously access rail.”
He added in an interview later, “Short-lines are very advantageous, and allow a different kind of access to rail, if you take a moment to think about what a short-line is. It’s essentially formed when a group of people purchased a abandoned rail line or section of track from a class 1 railway, in an effort to keep operating it and help keep communities alive. There are many formed in Saskatchewan and western Canada, and I had the pleasure to be involved with many of them and the association for nine great years.
“For example, the SSR has had a lot of investment over the last 10 years along its short-line, it’s no secret it can be noticed by driving down Highway 33. However, WIT is strategically different, as our business model relies on being a transload versus a short-line, the population of Weyburn is greater, the surrounding industry is larger, also there are busier highways and it’s closer to larger centres. This allows for a whole new opportunity of rail car shipping within the industry.” Explaining some of the advantages the Weyburn facility will have over a short-line, he said, “Commodities that may not work to ship along the SSR will be a perfect fit at the WIT facility and siding in the coming months or year. WIT will be a one-stop shop for many customers in time, and I’m truly excited and humble about the opportunity to get operating and open for business, all while keeping safety as a priority.
“In the rail business I like to think there are two key ideas that matter most about a new venture, that being timing and location. Those are two key essential factors on moving products or keeping the cars coming through a site efficiently. I truly believe WIT will accomplish both, all in challenging economic times and the struggle of COVID-19,” he said.
The company has put in a lot of capital to build the tracks, but Stewart noted once the rail infrastructure is in place, it’s there to stay, and they will make it back on rail cars.
As far as trucking access, he said they will be working with the RM and the province about the best routes to have trucks come in or drive out, with the idea that much of this truck traffic will take place outside of the city.
Asked if he knows what kind of financial benefit this business will have for the city, Stewart said he hasn’t tried calculating that number, but noted if they are able to have dozens of trucks stopping here each month rather than driving through Weyburn, it will have a benefit for the hotels, restaurants and other retail and service outlets in the city.
“I’m sure it will be significant,” said Rotary member Gary Anderson.
Asked if this was his brainchild, Stewart said it began as his and his dad’s idea, and they were then successful in getting partners on board with them.
“We’ve been friends with Dale Mainil for a long time, so when dad retired from SSR, we thought we would look into this quietly. Dale was the first guy we approached, and we pitched the idea to Dale, Calvin (Tracey) and Jason Leblanc, and we’ve never looked back. We’ve learned a lot in the last year and a half,” said Stewart. “Now we’re a team. This is not my doing by any means.”
He added, “One last thing, everyone knows many trains run through Weyburn daily, some heading north or some headed south. The key to any business along a railway but essential to WIT is the train flow. Therefore, understanding this model and idea, it allows for a smooth transition of car flow in and out of a facility in a timely and effective manner. In conclusion, in order for WIT to remain competitive and at max capacity, one must be priced right and do a great job at the service we are providing, and I’m very confident our team will do just that.”