NEWS

Third rail line to Quebec's north a necessity, says Schefferville

12/11/2014 05:00 EST | Updated 02/09/2015 05:59 EST
The administrator of Schefferville says despite what experts say, he believes the Plan Nord — Quebec's plan for the development of the north — depends on having a third train line to get iron to market.

"If the government wants to have some sort of Plan Nord in the Fosse du Labrador, they have to have a third way to ship the iron to Sept-Îles," said Paul Joncas.

Transportation represents about 40 percent of production costs for iron mines working in the Labrador Trough along the Quebec-Labrador border. Rail is the only way to transport the millions of tons of iron produced each year.

​There are currently two tracks that run north. One is owned by ArcelorMittal, and runs from Port-Cartier to Fermont.  It only carries ore extracted by ArcelorMittal.

The second track runs from Sept-Îles to Schefferville and is owned, in part, by the Iron Ore Company (IOC).

That means other companies working in the Schefferville area must pay a competitor to carry their product.

Experts warn waste of money

The province of Quebec is spending $20 million on a feasibility study for the third rail.

An expert specialized in rail law, Jean Clerk, says the expense is appalling.

"I fail to understand how we would commit public money, especially when we don't have much to spend these days, to do something which is for me, totally unnecessary."

Clerk says the government should first ask whether the need for a third rail is there, before figuring out how and where to build it.

Instead, he suggests doubling the existing tracks.  He estimates building a whole new network would cost $8 billion, and take a decade.

"We are in a harsh terrain, the winter is rough, there is no access, no road way, no material there, no work force there."

Clerk says laws are already in place to protect shippers from unreasonable costs imposed by rail line owners and operators, and it's up to those companies to negotiate properly.

The administrator of Schefferville says he has heard these arguments but doesn't buy them.

"They don't know how it works," said Joncas. "It's like asking Walmart to help Target in Canada."

Land Issue

Much of the land in the Schefferville area is traditional Innu hunting ground, and unlike their Cree and Naskapi neighbours, the Innu don't have a treaty.

​Réal McKenzie, the chief of the Matimekush-Lac John community that is adjacent to Schefferville, says he's not closed to the idea of having a third rail line across his territory.

He says the Quebec government and mining companies have already approached him to talk about it.

"It's not because we are good people — we are Innu.  It's because of the land," he said. "They don't want to have a political problem with the Innu, so they are going to have to include us as a partner… It could be good at the economic level."

It is not known yet exactly where a possible third rail would run, or who would pay to build it.

Joncas says he’s fine with government paying for a study, but the mining companies should form a joint venture to pay for the construction of a third rail line.

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