Niche Hauling: Alberta fleet links with railway

by James Menzies

GRANDE PRAIRIE, Alta. – The trucking industry and the railways often seem to be at odds with each other, however, a partnership forged between companies on both sides of the fence aims to break down the barrier.

Wiebe Transport – an approximately 25-truck operation based in Grande Prairie, Alta. – has agreed to work closely with short-line operator Alberta RailNet. A 14-car rail site has been built adjacent to Wiebe’s truck receiving and departure yard, which will be used as a transfer point for bulk commodities arriving by rail and carrying on by truck.

The facility opened Aug. 28 and immediately, Wiebe’s trucks began offloading sodium sulphite from RailNet’s cars for delivery by truck to Taylor, B.C.

Ron Wiebe, general manager of the company says times are changing and partnerships such as this one are a win-win for both the trucking and rail industries.

“There are a lot of times when customers demand the best price possible and sometimes it requires the combination of truck and rail and that’s what we’re trying to capitalize on,” says Wiebe. “It’s something where we can, as a trucking company and a railroad, do things that help each other.”

While the two modes of transportation have been embroiled in a long-standing rivalry of sorts, Wiebe says in many cases it’s best to work together.

“We’re never going to replace each other,” says Wiebe. “There’s always going to be a need for rail and a need for truck and if we both recognize that then we can work together and service our customers better.”

For Wiebe Transport, the partnership will likely mean the addition of more trucks to the company’s fleet, which is currently comprised of 15 company-owned trucks and about 10 lease-ops.

“I can see certain markets of our trucking company growing, like the short-haul operation,” says Wiebe.

RailNet is also expecting to greatly increase its freight shipments now that it has inked an agreement with a local fleet to help it get its deliveries to receivers in a more efficient and timely manner.

“Our aim here is to extend the reach of both truck and the rail to do local distribution of products that are railed in and at the same time, draw materials into the rail site to be trans-shipped from truck to rail for bulk commodities leaving the region,” says Greg Pichette, vice-president and general manager of Alberta RailNet.

Purchased from Canadian National (CN) in 1999, Alberta RailNet is able to bring freight into Grand Prairie from as far away as Mexico.

“CN is our long-haul partner so we connect to CN lines and we can ship and receive rail cars from anywhere on CN’s system,” says Pichette.

So far, the focus of this agreement has centered on off-loading freight from Alberta RailNet’s cars and delivering them to their final destination aboard Wiebe’s trucks.

“We’re planning in the future to load rail cars as well but right now our focus is on off-loading bulk products,” says Wiebe.

The company is in the process of installing a truck weigh scale at the facility, as well as an under-rail unloading system. The majority of the freight moved through the facility will be bulk commodities such as fertilizer, potash, sodium sulphite and road salt.

While the two companies will be working very closely together, both companies will remain independently owned and operated.

“It’s just a gentlemen’s agreement to work together and we see it as a benefit to our company as well as Alberta RailNet,” says Wiebe, noting about 18 months of planning went into the deal.

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