Manitoba’s CentrePort to break ground on rail park this summer

One Canadian real estate developer is optimistic the City of Winnipeg can regain a place among the country’s top major cities. 

The co-owner of Focus Equities Kenneth Mariash says building CentrePort Canada Rail Park could be a step in that direction. 

The Rail Park is going ahead at North America’s largest trimodal inland port, the Province of Manitoba announced Friday. 

The project that’s estimated to generate $3 billion in economic activity for the province will complete the inland port’s vision of enhancing accessibility via three modes of transportation: air, rail and truck — CentrePort’s president and CEO Diane Gray said. 

“Obviously, that’s exciting. Economic growth means job creation. It means opportunity,” Gray told Global News on Tuesday. 

The Rail Park is expected to create about 5,000 jobs over the course of the build-out, which could take between 10 to 20 years, she said. 

CentrePort makes up 20,000 acres that fall within the City of Winnipeg and the RM of Rosser, land designated to capitalize on its central geographic location and serve as a logistics, manufacturing and warehousing hub. 

CentrePort Canada Rail Park will be nestled northwest of CentrePort Canada Way and south of Canadian Pacific Railway’s main east-west line. Focus Equities is taking on the 665-acre project, which Gray says will help companies move goods more efficiently. 

 The industrial land is already home to more than 1,000 companies, she said, with CentrePort having attracted more than 100 since its founding in 2008, through The CentrePort Canada Act. 

Transport trucks hurtled up and down CentrePort Canada Way on Tuesday — a route with upwards of 10,000 trips a day. Brand-new multi-tenant buildings dotted some of the surrounding landscape, along with patches of freshly overturned earth, signs of bustling construction. 

“Companies that manage part of their supply chain by rail will have the option of having direct spurlines into their property and on their sites,” Gray said. 

They’ll be able to connect to three Class 1 railways: directly to CP and indirectly to Canadian National Railway (CN) and Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway (BNSF) through federal interswitching, she added. 

While trucking continues to dominate Canadian logistics, Gray said a number of pressures on the industry may push companies to look at rail, including cutting down on their environmental footprint and rising fuel costs. 

The project is a move supply chain expert Barry Prentice says will make CentrePort more attractive. 

“It’s a bit like, ‘Well, if you don’t have it, why would people come here? And if you do have it, it’s maybe one more reason for (companies) to come here,” Prentice, a professor at the University of Manitoba, told Global News on Friday. “Certainly, it’s much more positive than negative.” 

“Having the three railways meet here in Winnipeg and having access to all three from the Rail Park will make us a more desirable location.” 

The Rail Park is also timely, with CP’s acquisition of Kansas City Southern (KCS) in December that connects Winnipeg all the way to Mexico by a single line, he said. 

“That’s actually an advantage to us in terms of moving things through. Products arrive faster. They’re not likely to get lost … and of course, rates might be more competitive as well.” 

Prentice says he ultimately can’t predict whether the project will be profitable, but it’s a step the president and CEO of Economic Development Winnipeg is trusting will usher in the economic activity CentrePort is hoping for. 

“It’s one of the last big pieces that needs to be in place to be able to realize the benefits of CentrePort and what we’ve sold CentrePort to be,” Dayna Spiring said. 

“I’m really excited about this. I think this is a really big deal, and it’s going to be a game changer in the economic development space.” 

Rail Park could put Manitoba ‘on the map’: developer 

Focus Equities intends to start construction this summer with the goal of having the first fully-serviced commercial lots available for tenants by next summer. 

Up to 20 different tenants could settle at the Rail Park once it’s completed, Mariash told Global News on Tuesday, and they’re in talks with several interested parties. 

Mariash anticipates the project will put Manitoba on the map, as rail becomes more topical amid increasingly congested American ports and the shortage of truck drivers. 

If the CP-KCS merger is approved by a U.S. regulator, the single-line rail network linking three countries could help bypass the congestion in Houston and Los Angeles and make Winnipeg a hot commodity, Mariash said. 

“Canadian Pacific is talking about (a) 60 per cent increase in freight volume, which is huge,” Mariash said. “The impact on Winnipeg being the terminus from the southern countries to the north, it’s going to be very, very much in demand.” 

“I think, just wait and see. You won’t recognize the place in 20 years. It’s going to get what it deserves, which is great.”