Closed rail line another blow to Churchill port

Severe spring flooding that washed out a section of the Hudson Bay Railway line between Gillam and Churchill, Man., last month has dealt another crippling blow to efforts to resume grain shipments through the Port of Churchill.

“It’s a major blow to the whole situation,” said Elden Boon, a farmer from Virden, Man., and president of the Hudson Bay Route Association.

“It’s just another nail in the coffin so to speak … but hopefully, when the (engineering) assessment comes back, it will show that (the damage) is maybe not as critical as one would think.”

Omnitrax, which owns the Hudson Bay Railway, suspended rail service on a section of HBR track last month.

Sources say rail service on a section of the track covering several hundreds of kilometres has been suspended indefinitely and is not likely to resume until freeze-up at the earliest.

The track bed has been washed away in numerous locations and as many as five bridges are damaged.

Dozens of other bridges and culverts will also need to be assessed before service is resumed.

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Omnitrax has been trying to sell the HBR line for the past two years.

The company has signed a memorandum of understanding with a northern Manitoba First Nations group interested in acquiring the track, but a formal deal has not been reached.

It remains to be seen how damage caused by flooding will affect a potential sale.

Boon said it seems unlikely that Omnitrax would spend a significant amount of money to repair an asset that it is trying to unload.

The Manitoba government is involved in discussions with Ottawa, community leaders and First Nations groups to determine what steps can be taken, but it remains to be seen whether government will contribute financially to track repair efforts.

The railway is the only overland route linking southern Manitoba to Churchill and other remote communities in the north.

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The line supplies food, fuel and other products to northern communities and also carries passengers to and from Churchill on a weekly basis.

Boon said he has been told that Omnitrax will continue to offer service between The Pas and Gillam, but service on the remaining portion of the route is in limbo.

“At this point, the future is pretty uncertain,” Boon said about the likelihood of resuming grain shipments next year.

“This is going to have a huge impact on Churchill, for sure.”

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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  • bufford54

    The decimation of, and reluctance to improve Canada’s railway system is unforgivable. The short sightedness and ignorance of our elected officials, together with multi national investors, has created one of the worst railway systems in the world. In a country as vast and rugged as Canada, only an effective railway system can ensure growth and prosperity to almost every region of this nation. What was once a concerted effort by our forefathers to ensure that rail service was available to most remote communities, has now dwindled to an antiquated, unreliable, ineffective, pile of rusted steel, in most areas of Canada. . Around the world civilized countries are spending $billions on improving the speed and efficiency of their railway lines, while Canadian politicians focus on taxing the thousands of trucks we rely on to provide our goods and services. I believe history will prove that the intentional decay of our railway system will lead to fewer jobs, and more costly effects to both our environment, as well as remote communities. To walk down an abandoned railway line from Newfoundland to British Columbia, gives one a sense of emtiness and loss. A railway line that was once the lifeblood of a community, sadly now sits quietly as the wooden ties rot and the ribbons of steel rust away. The hopes and dreams of new development, new opportunites, and a future of prosperity, gone.

    • ed

      Yes, correct bufford54. The absconding of the farmers own collective selling agency (CWB) has led to many problems and heartache. The annually missing $4 billion a year and it’s ten fold commerce spin up (potentiality $40 billion annually), when you start with that money in the farmers hands vs hoover it out to an American or Saudi head office was accurately predicted to be widely felt in a negative way. These types of negatives do add up and are affecting the coffers of the western provinces now and are leading to health care cuts and infrastructure maintenance cuts. It was an easy thing to predict and much harder to fix. Maybe the “sky is not falling” types can address this one.

      • Stephen Daniels

        Let me play you a really sad song on the world’s tiniest violin for all us heartbroken farmers missing the CWB.

        • ed

          There are not too many farmers that don’t miss CWB delivered $12.64 net to pocket #2 15.5 protein CRSW prices like we had 10 years ago with our collective so you might want set up some extra chairs for your act. Maybe some security as well. Don’t bother inviting the big grain companies however, for like yourself, they don’t see the wisdom in higher grain prices at the farm gate. And by the way, thanks for all your kind help with accomplishing those goals. You are definately top on their Christmas list.

  • John Fefchak

    Global Warming is upon us.
    History tells us that the railway to Churchill was laid some 85 + years ago…a life line to the people who lived there. It was well used, militarily, commercially and for the tourists and visitors. I have been there several times during my military career.
    The past years have been troublesome and challenging for the railway.
    I am one who believe that with the world warming trend occurring, the muskeg and perma frost areas are slowly collapsing; and they will no longer support this method of travel. Reconstruction/rebuilding and maintenance would be extremely costly.
    Churchill may have to accept that it will be an isolated port, only accessible by air and water.