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The Canadian and Quebec governments are pushing forward with the analysis of a new cargo train line in Northern Quebec that’s being billed as the first route to skirt the busy Windsor, Ont., rail corridor and avoid major chokepoints.

Engineering company SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. said Wednesday that it won a two-year contract by Société ferroviaire Qc Rail SEC with partner Norda Stelo to complete prefeasibility and feasibility studies to analyze the technical and economic viability of a 370-kilometre railway connecting the city of Dolbeau-Mistassini to the deep-sea port of Baie-Comeau. The railway would offer companies a possible new northern transportation corridor – connecting existing lines further west to world markets, SNC-Lavalin said.

The project “could potentially lead to a more efficient and financially beneficial railway route for the movement of goods across Canada,” said Ben Almond, who leads SNC’s engineering, design and project management business in Canada. SNC said the line would be the first route to bypass the heavily trafficked Windsor rail corridor and all its major cities, including Toronto, Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal.

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Potential Northern Quebec rail extension

SNC-Lavalin has won a contract from Quebec

Railway to study the viability of a new 370-km

railway in Northern Quebec, extending the

national rail line by connecting Dolbeau-

Mistassini to the port of Baie-Comeau

0

45

Baie-Comeau

KM

Potential route

St. Lawrence

River

Dolbeau-Mistassini

QUEBEC

Quebec City

U.S.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPEN-

STREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS; quebec government

Potential Northern Quebec rail extension

SNC-Lavalin has won a contract from Quebec Railway to

study the viability of a new 370-km railway in Northern

Quebec, extending the national rail line by connecting

Dolbeau-Mistassini to the port of Baie-Comeau

0

45

Baie-Comeau

KM

Potential route

St. Lawrence

River

Dolbeau-Mistassini

Lac Saint-Jean

QUEBEC

Quebec City

U.S.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP

CONTRIBUTORS; quebec government

Potential Northern Quebec rail extension

SNC-Lavalin has won a contract from Quebec Railway to study the viability

of a new 370-km railway in Northern Quebec, extending the national rail line

by connecting Dolbeau-Mistassini to the port of Baie-Comeau

0

45

Baie-Comeau

KM

Potential route

St. Lawrence

River

Dolbeau-Mistassini

Lac Saint-Jean

QUEBEC

Quebec City

U.S.

THE GLOBE AND MAIL, SOURCE: TILEZEN; OPENSTREETMAP CONTRIBUTORS;

quebec government

Logistics and transportation have become top-of-mind issues for Canada’s business and political leaders as the country tries to recover from the pandemic. The Canadian economy unexpectedly stalled from April to June after a 5.5-per-cent gain early in the year, a reversal driven by a sharp drop in exports in automobiles and other goods linked to global supply-chain disruptions.

“Added capacity is a good thing and so the shipper community would generally support the idea,” said Bob Ballantyne, senior advisor to the president at the Freight Management Association of Canada. The key things users of the line would consider are rates and reliability of service, he said.

Ottawa and Quebec have each put in $7.5-million to fund the preliminary analysis while the regional Manicouagan economic development agency has also committed a small amount. The results will serve to gauge the interest of potential financiers and rail line users in the project, which is not guaranteed. An early cost estimate of the line, based on similar projects in North America, was pegged at $1.6-billion.

Qc Rail is a new limited partnership set up specifically to oversee the professional evaluations of the proposal. Its board of directors includes representatives of local communities in the region, notably the Innu councils of Pessamit and Mashteuiatsh.

It’s difficult at this stage to predict whether the project will go ahead but the concept nevertheless has significant backing among the population of the region, said Qc Rail chairman Marcel Furlong.

“A rail project like this would allow for the elimination of part of the truck traffic on our roads,” Mr. Furlong said in an interview. It could also lessen the load for existing rail lines further south, many of which are heavily used, and offer a faster transit time to market, he said.

Several companies have already voiced their support for the plan, including agricultural products supplier Cargill, aluminum producer Alcoa, and pulp and paper manufacturer Resolute Forest Products, according to Radio-Canada. All three have existing operations in Baie-Comeau.

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SNC-Lavalin said it will provide topographical, geotechnical, hydraulic, environmental and civil studies, as well as the proposal of an optimal route for the project and cost estimates. The route would likely need to cross several big rivers and pass through several wildlife conservation zones as well as lands that are the subject of land claims by Indigenous communities.

Those involved see the line being used for bulk and general cargo, according to information on the Qc Rail website. Environment group Greenpeace has expressed concern the line would be used to transport oil and gas but the website says any business case for the project will not be dependent on fossil fuels.

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