Rail service to Churchill set to resume as line reopens

WINNIPEG — After being shut down for 18 months, rail service to Churchill, Man., officially reopened on Nov. 1.

The northern Manitoba community and deep water port on Hudson’s Bay lost its only land link to the rest of Canada in May 2017 when flooding and washouts severed the line.

Omnitrax, which had owned the Hudson Bay Rail Line and the Port of Churchill since 1997, refused to repair the line without government assistance. Onmitrax sold the line and port in August to Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership, which comprises AGT Limited Partnership, Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership and Fairfax Financial Holdings. Once the sale was finalized, work began on repairing the line, which was completed earlier this fall.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was among those present in Churchill for the official reopening. The federal government contributed $117 million for the acquisition and repair of the rail line.

“Today’s announcement marks the beginning of a new chapter for Churchill. We know that nobody is more invested in the future of the Hudson Bay Rail Line than the people who live in Churchill,” Trudeau said.

The Hudson Bay Route Association, which advocates for moving grain through the northern port, is pleased with the reopening of the rail line.

“It’s great news. It’s a long time coming,” said HBRA President Elden Boon.

He expects regular rail service to Churchill to begin in the near future and said the Arctic Gateway Group is now focusing on the port. Grain was last shipped through the port in 2015, with only 184,600 tonnes that year. Prior to that, grain exports through Churchill averaged about 500,000 tonnes per year.

“They’re doing some upgrades in there, some general maintenance and housecleaning as we speak,” Boon said.

A spokesperson for the Western Grain Elevator Association said the association is pleased the people of Churchill have their sole land link back, but the WGEA is unhappy with the federal government’s role in it. They consider the feds’ contribution as subsidizing a private corporation that will compete against other grain ports such as that in Thunder Bay, Ont.

He said Thunder Bay is currently underused and grain shipments to that port should be increased.

AGT did not respond to requests for comment, but the company has commented previously it foresees moving pulses, wheat and canola through Churchill in the future.

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