Hudson Bay Rail-line May Not Open This Winter

Arctic Gateway, new owners of the Hudson Bay Rail line railway to Churchill issues warning that recent snowfall and last month’s fatal derailment just might delay restoration of northern rail service until the spring. The consortium took ownership of the Railway and Port of Churchill on August 31.

Despite regular postings on social media of intense progress on track repairs, Arctic Gateway spokesman Murad Al-Katib stated that crews are working tirelessly on the tracks despite the snow, “but it remains possible that this work cannot be completed prior to the onset of winter.”

Despite the fact that workers would soon complete fixing all the washouts that occurred along the line during flooding in May 2017, the strength of the line still needs testing by transporting equipment north to Churchill.

“Even if the washout repairs occur prior to winter, it is still possible that rail service will not be restored until the spring,” wrote the chief executive officer of Saskatchewan grain giant AGT Foods.

He noted rail companies and governments have offered to help, “but it may take time to get the right equipment up to the repaired section of the line.”

However due to the recent deadly derailment that occurred on Sept. 15, near Ponton, south of Thompson, Al-Katib has indicated that might severely delay transporting equipment near Churchill. The derailment track section remains closed while inspections of the incident continue.

A washout, most likely resulting from beaver dams clogging culverts caused the derailment according to the Transportation Safety Board. In the derailment a 38-year-old worker was killed. Arctic Gateway has since revamped the beaver – control program which was dropped in 1997 by previous owner Omnitrax from the USA.

All in all, Arctic Gateway seems to be moving in a very positive direction with the rail – line. We are all excited to see the first train roll into Churchill in the near future!

“Immediate” Repairs to begin as Hudson Bay Line Sold

 

train in Churchill

Trains with supplies will finally be coming back to Churchill. Rhonda Reid photo.

The new owners of the Hudson Bay Rail line are set to initiate immediate track repairs according to the Canadian government on Friday. The announcement came following a deal in place for purchase of port and railway by a consortium of buyers. The agreement will open up travel and shipping to the remote northern outpost of Churchill, Manitoba, isolated from the rest of the province since May 2017.

Churchill residents have dwindled in numbers from roughly 1,000 people  to 700 – 800 since the washout and subsequent nearly $60 million in damage to the rail line linking Churchill to the south. The trail closure has escalated costs for crucial supplies such as food and fuel, which currently is being shipped in on barges or through air transport.

Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership, a private-public partnership that includes Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership, Fairfax Financial Holdings and AGT Limited Partnership have purchased the Port and the Hudson Bay rail line from previous owner Omnitrax Inc from Denver, Colorado.

“We’ll have control in the future, and we’ll work toward prosperity,” said Churchill mayor Mike Spence. “This is historic, I don’t think there’s another model out there in Canada that would fit into this equation.

“This is what we hoped and wished for — we are finally there.”

Jim Carr International Trade Diversification Minister thanked area residents for their patience.

“I want Canadians living in northern Manitoba and Nunavut to know that the Government of Canada understands the importance of the line to their daily lives,” he said in a release on Friday.

The deal was delayed numerous times while Omnitrax claimed it wasn’t able to afford to fix the tracks. After hiring an assessment firm, Omnitrax estimated between $40 million and $60 million in repairs to restore light passenger-rail service and take about two months.

“We are racing against time,” said Fairfax Financial president Paul Rivett in a release. The goal for the new owners is to have the rail line operating prior to winter setting in.

“Phase 1 of the project will be to repair the rail line, undertake safety and rehabilitation upgrades to the port and the railway assets. We will commence the repairs and do all we can to restore service expeditiously and safely.”

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister commended the deal and stated that plans are in place just in case the line cannot be fixed prior to the severe winter sets in.

“We are hopeful the repair of the rail line can occur as soon as possible so that service can be resumed before freeze-up,” he said.

“However, we want to reassure the people of Churchill and the surrounding northern communities that we have already made the financial commitments and logistical arrangements necessary to ensure propane resupply for the winter.”

Fuel Subsidy Approved for Churchill

Some relief is here for Churchillians as the Government of Canada has approved a .43 cent per liter subsidy for fuel supplied by the Churchill Marine Tank Farm. Although there is some resentment still towards Omnitrax, the current owner of the tank farm, residents feel fortunate to have the discounted fuel. Churchill currently has the highest price per lite/gallon of fuel in North America!

Churchill Video of the Week – A Trip Down the Tracks

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.”

Arnaud Maldague.

Port of Churchill Sale Agreement in Place

port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill still vacant while the sale of the business is in limbo. Katie de Meulles photo.

There are no groundhogs in Churchill! So, there really cannot be a “groundhog” day. However, with the recent announcement of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Line being sold again there seems to be some confusion.

There apparently is another informal agreement that will reestablish ownership of the Hudson Bay Rail line and the Port of Churchill within the northern Manitoba community and keep the facilities under Canadian control.

One North and Missinippi Rail LP have joined forces with Fairfax Financial Holdings and come to an informal agreement to acquire the dormant assets from current owner Denver, Colorado-based Omnitrax.

Fairfax, a Toronto-based investment company, agreed to partner with One North and Missinippi Rail this past November, to purchase Omnitrax’s northern Manitoba assets.

The arrangement includes the participation of 41 First Nations and non-First Nation communities in northern Manitoba as well as seven Kivalliq communities in western Nunavut, along with Fairfax and AGT, the government said.

Omnitrax owner Pat Broe and Fairfax president Paul Rivett negotiated the acquisition, but there are multiple legal issues to finalize before prior to a finalized deal can be completed.

Churchill mayor and One North co-chair Mike Spence has been waiting a long time for this deal to materialize. Spence has been tirelessly lobbying for a deal since Omnitrax began reducing the frequency of rail service to Churchill nearly two years ago.
However, as we all have seen, this deal will not be official until papers have been signed and money exchanges hands. We have seen far too many deals or rumors of deals taken away with the tide of the Hudson Bay.

“Priority No. 1 will be rail line repairs in the very near future and to finalize the acquisition,” Spence wrote in a statement.

“This is a historic partnership involving Indigenous and northern communities with industry leaders that now positions the Port of Churchill as an Arctic gateway for future prosperity.”

The Hudson Bay rail line to Churchill was washed out by a flood runoff from two late spring blizzards in May 2017. Since then, Omnitrax has refused to repair the tracks and has been in an ongoing battle with the Canadian Government over responsibilities regarding the repairs. Initially, the costs of repairs were between $40 and $60 million. Omnitrax claimed it was unable to cover those high costs.

 

Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated last year that Omnitrax is responsible for getting the train line up and running again. While this is being settled, at this point most likely through new ownership, the federal government has been providing ongoing subsidies to northern residents to help defray escalating costs of goods shipped north.

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