Group bids for Hudson Bay Railway and Churchill port

A new ownership group that’s attempting to buy the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba says western Canadian grain will be an important part of the port’s commercial business.

If the proposed sale of the port and railway goes ahead, grain shipments will resume as quickly as possible following necessary repairs to a section of the railway between Gillam, Man., and Churchill, a spokesperson for the group added.

“The rail line … can’t be used for passenger service and the delivery of consumer goods alone,” said Louis Dufresne, president of iChurchill.

“That alone is not a viable business strategy. It needs to be underpinned by robust economic activity at the port and through the rail system.

“We’re planning to resume grain and grow from there.”

Winnipeg-based iChurchill is part of an ownership group that hopes to acquire the railway and the port from its current owner, OmniTrax Canada.

According to a May 3 news release, iChurchill has teamed up with a group of Manitoba First Nations led by chief Glenn Hudson of the Peguis First Nation, based at Peguis, Man.

The potential owners have scheduled a news conference for May 11 in Winnipeg to announce the deal.

Dufresne told the Western Producer that iChurchill is a new company whose principals and advisers include land rights specialist Robyn Lore, Doug McNeill, who is past-chair of the Petroleum Services Association of Canada and current board member with the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters Association, and Gary Rennick, a former Canadian National Railway manager who was involved in CN’s acquisition of the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) in the late 1990s.

Rennick later helped to facilitate the sale of the HBR and the Port of Churchill to OmniTrax before joining OmniTrax himself.

Dufresne said iChurchill’s team consists of experienced Canadian entrepreneurs with a strong background in the Canadian resource sector.

He declined to share specific details of the sales agreement but said the sale is “a First Nations led initiative” with iChurchill acting as the “commercial partner.”

“The consortium is led by chief Hudson and has the support of a large number of Manitoba First Nations, particularly those who are affected by the disruption of (rail) service to Churchill,” said Dufresne, who described the port and the railway as “assets of strategic importance” to Manitoba and Canada.

“We see a lot of value and potential in these assets once they are returned to service,” he said.

“We are committed to making this business viable.”

The deal, if executed, is expected to include physical assets as well as human resources involved in operating the port and the railway.

The first order of business will be a process that seeking requests for proposals to repair the inoperable section of the rail line, Dufresne added.

OmniTrax Canada has been trying to sell the HBR and the Port of Churchill since late 2015.

Last year, OmniTrax officials suspended service on a section of the railway between Gillam and Churchill — a distance of several hundreds of kilometres — after overland flooding caused extensive damage to the track and rail bed.

After assessing the damage, OmniTrax officials said they would not repair the track.

Instead, the company said it would continue with discussions aimed at selling the disabled assets.

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