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.
Arnaud Maldague made this epic bicycle journey along the tracks of the Hudson Bay Line from Churchill to Gillam to bring awareness to the plight of Churchill, Nunavut and communities affected by the loss of rail service. For over a year the tracks have been unusable and no train is able to reach the northern terminus of Churchill. With a new deal for a local group and financial investor to buy the port in place, hopes are high that the isolation will end soon. Below is Arnaud’s account of the situation:
“After skiing the Arctic for 100 days, I arrived in Churchill, Canada, only to discover the city had no more functioning railroad. The rails were flooded on 23 may 2017 after a huge winter storm hit the region earlier this winter. The damaged rails suffered some washouts, which cut the city only ground supply and communication mean. Private owner Omnitrax, whom is legally bind to maintain the tracks, refused to repair the line, pretexting exaggerated costs and financial failure. The government refused to funnel money to the company, resulting in a political drama and no repairs. Churchill’s citizen are stuck with high prices, jobs cuts and a bitter feeling of being abandoned. The situation also impacted the whole Kivalliq region, Nunavut, which relied on Churchill rail supply line. One year later, nothing had changed… Since the rails were part of my itinerary and “The Manneken Trip” expedition, I decided to shoot this video while cycling the rails down towards Gillam and later Winnipeg. The idea was to generate some awareness and report on the state of the rails. As expected, the damages aren’t that bad, and could easily be repaired. It was a horrible ride with its lot of nice surprises! Nature was super beautiful however : the taiga, the boreal forest and lots of birds. Three days after finishing the trip, 41 communities joined together with private company Fairfax and AGT in order to buy the Hudson Bay Railroad and port. It’s an historic move from these community which retransfer ownership into local hands! However, no date has been set for the repairs yet… Due to intensive and long winters, repairs can only take place during the few summer months. If repairs don’t start soon, Churchill might have to face another winter without train.”
This view of the trip from The Pas to Churchill on the Hudson Bay Railroad gives a feeling of heading north through uncharted territory to the frontier town of Churchill. The town is accessible only by rail and air since no roads exist over the permafrost. Venturing by train allows one to feel isolated in a way explorers might have felt as they trekked north. I have taken this rail journey many times and it never was the same and always was an exciting feeling to board in Winnipeg and see the transition in topography and environment heading to Churchill. With Churchill’s Arctic summer coming, travelers will be filling the rail cars and heading north to see incredible wildlife of the Churchill region!
Travelmanitoba just released this trailer to get people excited about traveling to Churchill in the summer. I wish the trailer was longer..really well done. After spending a decade guiding summer adventures up north in Churchill there will always be a longing to return for the belugas as well as all the other sights and sounds of this special season. Natural Habitat runs amazing trips from Winnipeg north to Churchill. Many travel by train on the Hudson Bay Railroad...an adventure all its’ own. Come aboard this Arctic summer and see for yourself!