One hundred and seventy-seven silver railcars emerge from the thick fog that blankets the Prairies. When the sun finally pierces through the grey sky it reveals shiny new empty hoppers, untouched by graffiti, rust or wear and tear, making their way to K+S Potash Canada’s (KSPC) Legacy project potash mine for the first time. This inaugural trip comes four years after KSPC and CP entered into a long-term agreement to have CP serve as the exclusive rail carrier of potash from the recently constructed and named Bethune mine, 60 kilometres northeast of Moose Jaw.
But long before brine could be crystalized to potassium chloride, both companies had to build the infrastructure necessary to move potash from the mine to international and domestic markets. For CP, that meant constructing the Belle Plaine Subdivision, a 30 kilometre stretch of track that would link the Legacy site to CP’s existing Kalium Spur on the Indian Head Subdivision. KSPC had to construct a 14 kilometre line to connect the Belle Plaine Subdivision to a loop at the potash mine’s loading facilities and almost six kilometres of storage track adjacent to its line.
“We’ve had a very close collaboration between the two parties—a real partnership approach,” said Jan Grommas, Legacy Program Coordinator for KSPC. “I think both parties had a tremendous project in front of them. CP, with huge earth volumes to be moved and not a very straightforward construction, and for us, a huge capital investment of about $3.1 billion euros.”
For CP, construction of the 30 kilometre route to the Legacy site proved to be a challenge. Grading through the valley required the movement of 9.7 million cubic metres of earth, equivalent to covering the entire surface of a football field and building upwards for 1.5 kilometres. Adding to the scope of the project was the construction of a 137 metre bridge and a 70 metre tunnel.
“We set pretty aggressive timelines. Gave ourselves 18 months to not only move massive volumes of earth but to complete pipeline relocation as well as track, bridge and tunnel construction,” said Darcey Hormann, CP’s Project Director, K+S. “I am particularly proud of the fact that we were able to keep the bulk of the track work in-house. Our engineering crews worked hard to meet deadlines and mitigate the challenges of this site. We tackled the track work from the south end with rail access and from the north end using trucks to haul rail and ballast to ensure we would meet the aggressive schedule.”
After 17,500 concrete ties, 32,000 wood ties, 30.4 kilometres of track, 4,500 tonnes of steel, 90,000 tonnes of ballast and thousands of man-hours, construction is now complete. Canadian Pacific Magazine followed the hoppers as they snaked their way through the valley for delivery to the Legacy site for the first time.