What’s old is new again in southeastern Alberta. A railway stop that once sat on the main line from Saskatoon to Calgary is now drawing interest from companies in several different industries and global shipping routes, as a key intermediate transportation hub in Western Canada.

Even with 155 acres set aside for the Oyen Rail Yard and Logistics Park, the project developers might have to look at ways to expand.

“We’re expecting to grow,” says Town of Oyen Mayor Doug Jones. “It’s really progressed quite quickly.”

Ground breaking commenced for the Oyen Rail Yard and Logistics Park in October 2017. Phase one of the project will see the existing railyards located on the north edge of Oyen developed into a logistics park capable of managing up to 2,500 cars annually. Estimated costs of the initial phase are $2.1 million and include upgrades to existing rail, construction of new rail and initial site preparation. Even before phase one was underway, the developers had secured service from a major rail company, an energy services company as an anchor tenant, fielded inquiries from other oil companies, agriculture outfits and renewable energy providers, as well as container cars for shipping overseas.

Economic development going forward in North America is largely going to be dependent on how municipalities are preparing themselves from an infrastructure point of view to accommodate growth. What we discovered is transportation is the root of everything—if you can’t move it either in or out, you really have no business.”
– Walter Valentini, executive director of Palliser Economic Partnership

“There are three wind projects that have been bid on in our area,” says Jones. All three inquired about bringing in products like wind towers and blades, which could take up to 15,000 rail cars – roughly a mile and a half long.

In December 2017, the Alberta government auctioned off 600 megawatts of renewable electricity, enough to power up to 255,000 homes. Three wind power projects won this opening round of the Renewable Electricity Program and one of those projects will be located 50 kilometres north of Oyen. EDP Renewables, a Portugal-based renewable power company with wind farms around the world, anticipates its 248-megawatt Sharp Hills wind farm to begin commercial operation in December 2019.

Space for handling the large pieces of equipment associated with wind power projects will be incorporated into phase two of the logistics park development. The early interest proves that there is demand for regional transportation hubs to facilitate the movement of goods outside the Calgary-Edmonton corridor.

“Economic development going forward in North America is largely going to be dependent on how municipalities are preparing themselves from an infrastructure point of view to accommodate growth,” says Walter Valentini, executive director of the Palliser Economic Partnership (PEP). “What we discovered is transportation is the root of everything—if you can’t move it either in or out, you really have no business.”

It’s an impressive feat for a town that was very recently far o the beaten track. Sitting just 40 kilometres west of the Saskatchewan border, Oyen was once a stop on the 600-kilometre stretch of prairie between Calgary and Saskatoon. Canadian National Railway (CN) removed some of the tracks, leaving Oyen on a spur that comes from Saskatoon to service an agricultural elevator in Oyen.

“Basically, it’s a dead end,” says Jordon Christianson, chair of Alberta’s Special Areas Board, a rural municipality in southeastern Alberta. Rather than leave it that way, the Special Areas Board began working with the Town of Oyen and the PEP – the region’s economic alliance – to begin asking questions such as, “How do we secure that infrastructure for the future? Can we develop business on it to maintain it and keep
it going?”

The PEP hired PROLOG Canada to perform an assessment where they found several potential tenants that expressed a strong interest in locating their operations in the park.

The Town of Oyen and the Special Areas Board signed on as the initial developers of the Oyen Rail Yard and Logistics Park project. Iron Horse Energy Services soon joined as the anchor tenant, and will use the site for a new sand distribution centre. Sand is an integral part of the oil and gas development process, and the site will allow Iron Horse Energy Services to easily serve key oil and gas resource plays in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Ground breaking for phase one of the Oyen Rail Yard and Logistics Park. Photo courtesy: Palliser Economic Partnership

Another key partner supporting the project is CN. The rail company is working with the developers to bring the Oyen Rail Yard and Logistics Park online and a new transload facility in the region.

“We are pleased to be working with the partners to develop new opportunities and grow the local economy,” says Kate Fenske, manager of public affairs with CN. “We always welcome the chance to explore new business and connect future customers in Oyen to markets across North America and the world.”

As well as the anchor tenant, rail company and interest from multiple businesses, the town’s supporting businesses are lining up to service the logistics park. Jay Slemp, chair of the PEP, is excited that “local suppliers are now bidding on providing fuel, tires and other services. It is jobs in our community and kids in our school. We now have something to sell.”