CN expresses interest in B.C. Rail (November 26, 2002)

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PRINCE GEORGE, B.C. — While the province of B.C. insists B.C. Rail is not for sale, another prospective buyer is expressing interest in owning the regional railway.

Canadian National (CN) Railway has voiced its interest in owning B.C. Rail, should the province decide to put it up for sale, admits Paul Tellier, CN’s president and chief executive officer.

“If and when the province decides, if they were going to say ‘Yes, it is up for sale,’ shortly thereafter Canadian National would be ready to make a proposal,” Tellier told local media following the recent Northern Transportation Conference.

The province has insisted it will not sell the rail bed, but speculation runs rampant that it will examine public-private partnerships that could provide the opportunity for CN or Omnitrax – a U.S.-based railway that has also expressed interest in the commodity – to take over parts of the company. That would undoubtedly result in the revival of the railway’s freight-moving business, which was given up earlier this year by B.C. Rail.

“I can tell everyone this – the B.C. Rail bed is going to be owned by the public of B.C. forever,” insists B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell. “It’s too valuable an asset for us to privatize it. That’s not happening.”

In the event of a public-private partnership, CN says it would consider all options, although it would prefer a straight buy-out.

“There are very few public-private partnerships that have proven to be successful,” says Tellier. “Various people have tried where the road bed is separate from the operators and the record is not very good. If the province decides that this is the way they want to go, would I be ready to have an open mind about this? Yes, I would. But my recommendation based on the example of CN would be to go with a straight sale.”

Tellier vows that if CN becomes involved in the operation of B.C. Rail, it would guarantee competitive pricing for shippers while keeping gateways open for the free flow of goods from branch lines to the most efficient transfer points.

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