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Battle River Railway Co-op

A Journey to Local Empowerment

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February 22, 2024
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Originally published at Each For All

In this episode of Each For All: The Co-operative Connection, host Robin Puga sits down with Matthew Enright, the General Manager of the Battle River Railway Co-operative (BRR). BRR is based out of Forestburg, Alberta about 300 km northeast of Calgary.  This unique co-operative is an example of local empowerment and economic resilience. Enright shares the inspiring story of BRR’s evolution, its challenges, and the unparalleled benefits of community ownership of this shortline railway.

Conversation Highlights

  • Life after Wheat Pools: Enright describes the challenging economic landscape that Alberta’s farmers faced after the demutualization of Wheat Pools in 2012. This pivotal moment underscored the need for a sustainable, community-driven solution in the agricultural sector. The co-op ensures grain and oilseeds produced in the region get to market.

  • Formation and Structure of BRR: The genesis story of the Battle River Railway Co-operative is a testament to community spirit and resilience. The co-operative’s structure, including its innovative investment shares and the engagement of its 150 members, paints a picture of a progressive, ‘next-gen’ co-op model.

  • Challenges and Opportunities: The journey hasn’t been without hurdles. Enright discusses the operational and market challenges BRR has navigated, as well as the opportunities that have spurred growth and community involvement. Besides commodity transportation, BRR offers storage and promotes local tourism.

  • The Power of Local Ownership: Perhaps the most striking part of the discussion centers on the impact of local ownership. Enright’s statement, “CN didn’t care. The line would have gone fallow. Local ownership meant so much for our communities along the rail line,” captures the essence of this empowerment.

The story of the Battle River Railway Co-operative is more than a business case; it’s a narrative of community, perseverance, and the transformative power of the co-operative model. It reminds us that in the face of adversity, a collective approach can not only preserve but also enhance local economies and livelihoods. 

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