Okanagan companies are condemning CN's decision to cut rail service to Kelowna, saying it threatens jobs and jeopardizes their businesses.
Ashland Canada and Campion Marine accuse the railway company of making a unilateral choice without consulting more than a dozen businesses that depend on moving freight along the tracks to Lumby Junction.
Campion president Brock Elliott called it short-sighted.
"How can this be taken as good news when businesses from Kelowna to Armstrong . . . will continue to be severely impacted?" he said in a statement.
"The cities of Kelowna and Vernon may need this rail line to deal with future growth, which connects them for possible future commuter transit service, including to Kelowna Airport."
Canadian National Railway announced last week it's abandoning the section of line from Kelowna to Lumby Junction because there's too little freight traffic. It plans to resume moving trains between Lumby and Kamloops once the track is made safe.
Ashland, which manufactures structural plastics and coatings in Kelowna, says the decision affects the livelihoods of 35 employees.
"CN apparently plowed ahead without asking for any input from more than a dozen Kelowna businesses that depend on the rails to sustain their operations," said plant manager Kelly Brown.
The Kelowna plant has depended on rail service to transport raw materials for 43 years. Workers convert those feed stocks into structural plastics and coatings used by customers such as Campion Marine, Canada's largest recreational boat builder, and Kohler Canada, which provides tub/showers to the housing sector.
Ashland deliberately built its Kelowna facility next to the railway so it can receive chemicals from as far away as Texas. Since service was suspended in early July, the company has had to pay extra costs to transport its raw materials and finished product by truck instead of rail, said Brown.
"This will mean millions of dollars in additional shipping costs each year - a huge financial burden that could threaten the very future of the plant and its 35 employees," Brown said.
Kelowna MP Ron Cannan said he's worried the loss of commercial rail service to Kelowna could "knock the local economy off track." Rail service is a key component in the Okanagan economy because it supports well-paying jobs and helps provide tax revenue for services like parks and trails, he said.
"My goal is to have a multi-use corridor along the rail line, because I believe that 'trails and rails' together are part of a well-balanced and sustainable local economy."
Kelowna Pacific Railway leased the line to Campbell Creek east of Kamloops until it went bankrupt in July. Forest company Tolko Industries depended on trains to move its lumber and woodchips from plants in Kelowna, Armstrong and Lumby to the main railway in Kamloops.
Tolko will keep trucking out of Kelowna but plans to resume using rail out of Armstrong and Lumby once the north section reopens.