CN Rail says it has reached an agreement with a Northeast B.C. coal producer to start shipping product along a dormant rail line, weeks after a plea from the District of Tumbler Ridge to get the trains moving.
On Feb. 6, CN told the Dawson Creek Mirror that it plans to restore rail service on a line between Tumbler Ridge and the Ridley Island Coal terminal near Prince Rupert later this year.
The statement comes just weeks after the District of Tumbler Ridge informed local governments in the Peace Region that the deteriorating rail line had plunged the coal recovery into uncertainty.
"Significant investments are needed to resume rail service and CN has been involved in active discussion with local officials and a potential customer," CN Media Relations Managers Jonathan Abecassis said in an email. "Coal has still been moving via a trans load operation and another CN rail line."
"However, this month we have reached an agreement to restore rail service in that corridor and we will be moving forward with improvements that we expect will allow the line to be put back in service later this year."
Conuma Coal acquired a number of bankrupt mines in the region last year, opening the Brule Mine near Chetwynd and shipping coal on another line throughout the winter.
However, without the Tumbler Ridge subdivision of the CN rail line in working order, bringing the Wolverine Mine into production in the long term is not feasible, Tumbler Ridge Corporate Officer Aleen Torraville said in a letter to the region's municipalities.
"This line is the lifeblood of Tumbler Ridge," Torraville wrote, adding that without it, Conuma's Wolverine Mine and five other dormant or proposed coal mines cannot operate at full capacity.
"The repairs needed on the line are regular infrastructure maintenance and raise the question why it has not been done before," Torraville wrote.
Conuma reopened the Brule Mine late last year, and has plans to open the other two mines acquired from Walter Energy Canada at bankruptcy sale. All of the region's coal mines were closed as of early 2015 after a downturn in prices, leading to a spike in unemployment in Tumbler Ridge.
Prices for the metallurgical coal found in the hills around Tumbler Ridge have improved in recent months, despite slipping by around 40 per cent in January and February. It remains to be seen who will foot the bill for the upgrades, which the district pegs at $23 million.
Conuma President Mark Bartkoski said he was optimistic the line would be repaired by September.
The company has had "good discussions" with CN, and plans to meet with provincial officials about the details of restarting the line in the coming weeks.
In the meantime, work has begun extracting coal at Wolverine .
"As of right now, the mine is going, the mine has started on plan, and we're excited about the future at Wolverine," Bartkoski said.