Grande Prairie Alberta - An inland railway port proposed for Grande Prairie will be the focus of a new study proponents hope can help convince Canadian National Railway (CN) there is regional demand for the service.
If the project goes ahead, the port would move oil, gas, agricultural, and forestry products to international markets, cutting out costly transportation to the next-closest rail port in Edmonton.
The regional study is intended to help convince CN to help set up an inland rail port near the city, said Rhonda Side, a director with Side Group Rail, the developer for the proposed site in Grande Prairie.
"They are key to making this happen," Side said.
"We are ready to go, the case just needs to be made to CN. We need to create enough volume for them to divert railcars that hold the containers."
CN did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.
Side said planning for the inland railway port started about 15 years ago.
Her company manages a site north of Grande Prairie, with enough space to store international shipping containers.
Side said the site already has the necessary equipment, such as a crane for loading and unloading containers.
Existing rail lines already connect the site to ports across Western Canada, she said.
The province will fund half the study through its Community and Regional Economic Support program.
Economic Development and Trade Minister Deron Bilous announced Monday that a Calgary think tank, the Van Horne Institute, will receive $90,300 to conduct the study.
"I'll be very curious to see the results of the study," Bilous told CBC News.
"What are the opportunities? How can we move forward on this type of idea?"
Once the study is completed, the province will decide whether more government money should be dedicated to the port, Bilous said.
Side said she hopes the study will help convince CN the idea is a good one.
"What this study is going to show is what the demand really looks like, so we can build a business case," she said.
Side estimated the additional transportation and handling fees cost regional businesses up to 30 percent more than it would if goods were loaded directly into international shipping containers near Grande Prairie.
"It's a disadvantage on a local level, even on a provincial level," she told CBC News on Tuesday.
"Globally, it's very difficult to compete if you come at a premium."
The study was one of 62 projects approved for grants in the third round of the CARES program, which is meant to support long-term economic growth in Alberta.
"We're really excited to be able to help and do a really good economic development study," said Bryndis Whitson, director of stakeholder relations for the Van Horne Institute.
"Everyone's really always trying to figure out ways that they can send their goods to market, there's a really good study and case study to try and increase that in the Peace region and add to the rapidly expanding oil and gas industry, but also agriculture and all the different forest products."
The study is expected to conclude in early 2019.