BC Rail off track, say truckers

by Julia Kuzeljevich

PORT COQUITLAM, B.C. – The British Columbia Trucking Association has gone on the offensive against BC Rail, accusing the railway of undercutting the rates charged by for-hire truckers.

“In a free market, they might not even be around,” says Paul Landry, president of the British Columbia Trucking Association (BCTA). “We want the government to get rid of BC Rail’s trucking operations.

“If they’re feeding a rail line, OK. But not point to point,” he says.

The latest battle, which included a lengthy Jan. 4 Vancouver Sun editorial by the BCTA, comes after BC Rail won a contract on Dec. 21 to ship beer between Vancouver and Kelowna – even though the shipment doesn’t move by rail.

For all intents and purposes, the rail industry is considered deregulated in B.C. But the BCTA noted in its editorial that, “although BC Rail may not currently be enjoying a subsidy from the government, its very existence would not be possible without decades of taxpayers’ support and the writing off of $430 million of debt in 1984.”

Although the association acknowledges that BC Rail’s intermodal operations are important to the local economy, it says the railway’s involvement in trucking has seen it aggressively competing for freight in the last 10 years – “successfully under-bidding private sector companies that are known to have lower costs than BC Rail.” BC Rail is on record as having 50 plated vehicles for over-the-road transport.

And there’s the potential for even more freight to be lost in this deal. Now that it’s taking beer-laden trucks into Kelowna, the railway will need to find backhauls.

A BCTA member that lost the contract insists that BC Rail couldn’t possible meet its rate and earn any compensation for it, Landry says. “What we’re talking about is BC Rail, with a gold-plated Teamsters contract. Their wage rate would be pretty solid.”

“There’s no way they could compete without subsidies,” says a representative of one of the trucking companies involved in the beer contract bidding.

Truck News contacted BC Rail to discuss the issue. We spoke to a media spokesman, Alan Dever, and manager of intermodal services, Mike Bowman. The railway was less than willing to talk.

Said Bowman, “We talked to BC Rail’s president and our people and we, at this time, are not going to respond.”

In reaction to the Jan. 4 BCTA press release, B.C. Rail did, however, send a letter of response to the BCTA. Landry did not want the contents of the letter released, but did say that he had received a personal response from B.C. Rail’s president and CEO. n

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