Train service to Churchill has been suspended for over a year. Claude Daudet photo.
If money becomes available, Hudson Bay Railway could begin repairing the damaged tracks between Churchill and Gillam as early as September according to HBR President Sergio Sabatini. He confirmed with the Canadian Transportation Agency on August first that HBR has begun soliciting contracting bids to repair the washed out tracks but the money is not there to cover the costs of the work.
A report to the Canadian Transportation Agency (CTA), ordering HBR to start repairs by July 3 this year stated the process began with track inspection June 11 and June 12 by independent auditor AECOM. HBR prepared request proposals (RFP) and submitted them on June 28 to six pre-screened eligible contractors. Four of the six contractors attended a mandatory site visit on July 12 – 13. AECOM responded to technical questions form the contractors through July and bids were submitted and by August 3rd. AECOM stated it was “confident there will be multiple bids and methodologies to consider.”
Hudson Bay Railroad states that a substantial amount of repairs can be finished this year and then concluded by mid-2019. The goal is to restore limited service during this winter and then have full service soon after that when repairs conclude. Again, the report painstakingly reiterated facts that money was currently not available to initiate a definite repair plan.
“As the agency is aware HBR does not have the financial capability to undertake the full repairs of the damage to the railway caused by the spring 2017 flood,” Sabatini wrote. “HBR and its shareholders have been in discussion with the federal government and a potential buyer with the objective of ensuring that the necessary funds are in place to fully repair the Gillam to Churchill line and resume operations as expeditiously as possible.”
Future of the Port of Churchill is a bit foggy. Photo Steve Selden
The Canadian federal transportation regulator ruled last week that Omnitrax Canada is responsible for long-overdue repairs to the Hudson Bay Rail line linking Churchill with the south. The order mandates the tracks restored to usable condition, as quickly as possible.
This new development in the ongoing saga between Port of Churchill owners, Omnitrax, and the government seems to be coming to a crescendo of sorts. Repairs to the Hudson Bay Railroad have been ordered to begin by July 3rd with the additional requirement of filing monthly progress reports on the status of repairs. The Canadian Transportation Agency will be overseeing the project.
According to the transportation regulator, Omnitrax, as the current owner, is bound by a public obligation to restore the tracks and reinstate train service to the isolated communities and the “reasonable pause” in operations has elapsed. The tracks were washed out in May of 2017 due to flooding from two late spring blizzards.
The Canadian Transportation Agency maintains that the Denver-based company was contractually bound to initiate a reasonable plan to repair the tracks the by November 2017. Omnitrax hired an engineering company, AECOM, to assess the damage and then balked at the estimated $60 million estimate of repair costs. Company officials assert the transportation lifeline to the north should be treated as a public utility since commercial ownership of the railway line is no longer viable. The government has been insinuating that Omnitrax is trying to shirk its responsibilities since the time of the flooding.
Omnitrax’s argument continues with the premise that the flood was a “force majeure” event defined as an exceptional happening that nixes the firm’s contractual obligations.