Churchill port official confident despite rail service disruption

The company that owns the Hudson Bay Railway line connecting The Pas, Man., and the Port of Churchill says recent track closures will not affect grain shipments through the northern port this year.

Merv Tweed, president of OmniTrax Canada, said the company is still hoping to ship at least 700,000 tonnes of grain through the northern port this year.

“I actually expect to ship more, maybe 750,000 or 800,000,” Tweed said. “I still think we have the capacity to do a million tonnes out of there. Time will tell, but I’m very optimistic, though, that our (2014) goals will be met.”

Rail service on the line, which is the only one servicing the port, has been shut down for much of June.

Thirteen cars of a 50-car grain train derailed about 30 kilometres south of Churchill in early June, interrupting service for a week. The line reopened June 9 but was closed again June 20 because of heaving caused by frost.

Crews were repairing a section of track between Gillam and Churchill last week.

Tweed said OmniTrax hopes to restore service by July 5, barring any unexpected weather delays.

The latest two-week closure will throw freight traffic behind schedule, but Tweed said the company has enough grain stocks in place at Churchill to ensure that incoming vessels can be filled as soon as they arrive.

This year’s shipping season is scheduled to begin during the week of July 13-20.

Fewer than 30,000 tonnes of grain were in storage at Churchill as of mid-June, according to Canadian Grain Commission figures.

Tweed said more grain has arrived since then. He estimated stocks at 50,000 to 55,000 tonnes. Terminal capacity is 140,000 tonnes.

Provincial transportation and infrastructure minister Steve Ashton said the province wants to see the track re-opened as quickly as possible.

In addition to hauling grain, Hudson Bay Railway carries essential goods for Churchill and other communities in remote regions of Manitoba and Canada’s Far North.

The federal and provincial governments each committed $20 million over five years in 2007 to upgrade the northern rail line, which runs more than 500 kilometres through difficult wilderness terrain.

Ashton told reporters June 25 that the province might be open to providing more financial help to ensure that the railway is repaired and upgraded when necessary.

“Whether it requires further investments in the future, again, we’d be prepared to sit down and talk …,” he said.

“But what we have to do in the short term is get that rail line reopened.”

Discussions involving government funding would also have to involve Ottawa, he added.

Churchill moved 640,000 tonnes of grain last year.

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