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Forestry Companies Exploring Alternatives to Trucks

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. - Log haulers who think trucks are the only practical way to move logs may want to think again.Some forestry companies are taking a closer look at using other transport modes to ...

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. – Log haulers who think trucks are the only practical way to move logs may want to think again.

Some forestry companies are taking a closer look at using other transport modes to move their product, and the federal government is encouraging them to do so.

Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) has provided the Forest Engineering Research Institute of Canada (FERIC) with funding to explore the use of alternative modes of transport for log haulers.

“The goal of the funding is to look at the idea of reducing energy consumption and therefore reduce emissions,” said Mark Brown, a researcher with FERIC’s eastern division.

So far, FERIC has determined that using barges in Eastern Canada can deliver savings of more than 20 per cent compared to truck, and he said the potential is there to improve that by another seven per cent by better organizing the loading cycle.

Also, FERIC has worked with a Quebec-based forestry company to determine the potential savings by shipping logs by rail, and it has suggested there’s a $4 per cubic metre savings that can be realized on hauls as short as 200 kms.

In Western Canada, Alberta-Pacific Forest Industries (Al-Pac) has recently inked a deal with Athabasca Northern Railway (ANY) to move 420,000 tonnes of logs per year between Conklin and Fort McMurray. The company expects to save $800,000 per year by opting for rail over truck.

Project leader, John Ellison, was at FERIC’s western transportation conference in Grande Prairie to explain his company’s decision.

“The negotiations began with the premise that there had to be significant savings,” he said. “The bottom line was that they (ANY) had to be successful and we had to be successful as well.”

Ellison said the key to making rail an attractive option was having the rail infrastructure already in place. He noted it costs about $100-$130 per foot to build a railway line.

“Developing new railway lines just for logging doesn’t make sense,” he said.

While the rates are “very attractive” compared to trucking rates, environmental factors also played a big part in the decision, Ellison said.

The company’s own research indicates a potential reduction of 50,000 tonnes of CO2 over the next 10 years, as 10,000 fewer truck trips will be required annually.

“That’s coming off congested highways,” he added. “Hwy. 63 is a very busy highway so having fewer trucks out there is better for the general public, at least that’s how they perceive it.”

Making such a bold change in how Al-Pac did business was bound to cause some negative feedback, but the company was prepared for that, said Ellison.

“All change creates some form of social impact, so you have to understand the impact your change will have,” he said.

Problems with hauling contractors were anticipated, and there was also some concern about job losses in the community. But the company’s 70 permanent super-B truck fleet was unaffected by the move, as those trucks are still required for deliveries to satellite yards, said Ellison. The temporary and seasonal haulers were impacted, however.

But new local employment opportunities did help offset those job losses on the trucking side of the business, Ellison said.

Other benefits included reduced inventory at the mill yard; cost-competitive transportation rates; reduced insurance costs; reduced road maintenance costs – both on public and private roads, Ellison said.

In Al-Pac’s case, he suggested anything less than a four-hour haul would not be practical by rail. But when the infrastructure is already in place, switching from truck to rail can be a good business decision for some forestry companies, Ellison said.

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