Omnitrax Can’t Fix Rail Line Alone

Hudson Bay Line washout

One of the Hudson Bay Line’s washouts between Gillam and Churchill. Omnitrax photo.

Omnitrax does not have the resources to repair the Hudson Bay Railway and is urging the Canadian Government to get involved to help get the trains running again according to Merv Tweed, President of the company’s Canada management team.

“We’ve said publicly that we believe the province and the federal government have to be involved in this. It is a natural disaster,” Omnitrax Canada president Mervin Tweed said Friday.

Omnitrax is claiming there are at least 24 track sections between Gillam and Churchill, Manitoba that were severely damaged during the spring thaw and floods. Given the complexity of accessing the tracks and the permafrost base they lay on, the company is forecasting spring 2018 as the earliest time the repairs will be completed.

Hudson Bay Rail line Churchill

Flooding has caused some of the Hudson Bay Rail line to be underwater. Omnitrax photo.

Omnitrax has conducted aerial photo surveillance revealing long stretches of water submerged tracks, culverts displaced and suspended tracks above the ground with water running under them. This type of damage will be difficult to repair with expediency and forethought for future flood damage.

The Canadian government has not committed to any help before knowing what the costs will be.

“I mean, they’re being cautious. It’s hard to do something until you know — like us — what it’s going to cost,” said Tweed.

Merv Tweed Omnitrax

Omnitrax-Canada President Merv Tweed says government needs to be involved in repairing the rail line. CBC photo.

The Hudson Bay Railway is a lifeline between Churchill and the south. Trains typically bring up everything from fresh groceries to propane gas for heating homes. as well as building materials and anything else needed by residents and businesses. Without this service the economy and lifestyle in Churchill will be drastically affected.

The assessment, including 300 kilometers of tracks, 28 bridges and 600 culverts is beginning this week will take four weeks to analyze the tracks and two more to provide a comprehensive report detailing the process of repairing the line.

Tweed estimates the cost will be far larger than what Omnitrax can afford for the project.

“We don’t believe we have the resources to rebuild what needs to be done,” said Tweed. “Every time we go out we find something else.”

A difficult job ahead for engineers includes walking along the tracks and checking the stability of the line as well as taking soil samples in order to determine ground conditions under the tracks.

“Just getting to that site is going to be a real challenge,” Tweed said.

The tundra north of Gillam is saturated and many areas are covered with water slow to be absorbed by the permafrost – covered ground.

In the meantime, while the track is unusable north of Gillam, a  plan to utilize both the Port of Churchill and the town’s airport is being assessed and put in place to cover the shipping deficiency.

Tweed stated that some port, owned by Omnitrax,  employees have returned to work in preparation for aiding with additional shipments.

“We were optimistic about a pretty good rail season until the water hit,” Tweed said.

Arctic Graves May Expose Danger

Old Yakutian cemetery, siberia

Old Yakutian cemetery where the deep thawing has exceeded one meter. Array photo.

This is something global warming proponents could not have predicted when temperatures began to rise faster than expected in the Arctic. Is it possible that a disease that has been eradicated from the world could reemerge again?

Scientists from Russia are worried that deadly diseases such as smallpox and anthrax could be released back into the human population via the thawing of ground covering Arctic graves in a report released by The Sun UK. An anthrax outbreak in the Yamal peninsula last year caused the death of one child and nearly 2,500 reindeer. Thawing reindeer graves is blamed on this particular outbreak and was fairly harmless to people though the fear that smallpox could be released in the same fashion is now prevalent.

Disinfection of the territory in the area of anthrax outbreak in Yamal. Siberian Times photo.

Russian scientists are concerned that smallpox could be released from Arctic graves in Siberia where thawing is occurring three times faster than usual. Climate change is the driving factor behind the melting scientists argue.

The primary concern stems from an 1890’s  smallpox epidemic that killed almost half the population in eastern Siberia. Boris Kerhengolts, Deputy Director for research at the Institiute of Biological Problems of the Cryolithozone in Yakutsk, issued a concerning statement; “during the 1890s, a major epidemic of smallpox occurred in a town near the Kolyma River in eastern Siberia, and up to 40 percent of the population died. Their bodies were quickly buried under the upper layer of permafrost soil. A little more than 100 years later, Kolyma’s flood waters have started eroding the banks.”

Mikhail Grigoriev, Deputy Director of the Permafrost Studies Institute, says “The rock and soil that forms the Yamal Peninsula contains much ice, melting may loosen the soil rather quickly, so the probability is high that old cattle graves may come to the surface.”

Dangers other than smallpox and anthrax might be released from the shallow Arctic graves. Increased melting will possibly unveil centuries – old dangers in the near future.

“Doomsday” Document Vault Opened

Recently we reported on the deposit of 50,000 seeds into the “Doomsday Vault” on Svalbard Island in Norway. The vault is buried in the side of a snow packed mountainside and sealed to preserve the precious seeds that produce Earth’s food supply. In case of a catastrophic event jeopardizing our most fruitful plants and vegetables, these seeds are stored safely and can remain usable for nearly two centuries. The consistent cool temperatures resulting from the surrounding permafrost act as a built in refrigeration system.

Now, another similar storage system on the same island, Svalbard, is serving to protect the massive information files for humanity. The new “Digital Doomsday Vault” or Arctic World Archive, managed by Norwegian company Piql as well as a Norwegian coal mining company, will store data transferred to film for 1,000 years or more.

Global seed vault Svalbard Island Norway

Global Doomsday seed vault on Svalbard Island. Global Crop Diversity Trust photo.

National Archives of Mexico and the National Archives of Brazil have sent data so far to be stored in the vault.The Brazilian constitution was one of the documents sent though the storage facility is open to any and all historic documents states Piql.

All data processed by Piql will be formatted to photosensitive film which is impossible to delete or manipulate and is able to resist heavy wear and tear. When data is stored in analog form the contents is protected from remote alteration or cyber attacks of any kind. Considered more future proof than digital, analog requires no special updates or codecs to read the information if some rest of catastrophic degree were to occur. As long as internet servers are functional all data will remain accessible online and digitally delivered or shipped by request of a user.

These film reels will be stored deep inside a permafrost encased abandoned mine with a consistent temperature of 0 degrees Celsius.

Photographers stationed outside the “Doomsday” seed vault in Svalbard at its opening in 2008. (AP Photo/John McConnico)

Having both the “Doomsday” seed vault and now, the “Doomsday” data vault on the same island, Svalbard, opens up discussion from critics on ease of terrorism or natural disaster implications. With the widespread and multi – level destabilization in our world today, these precious archives will help humans piece together a cultural puzzle should a catastrophe of mass proportions destroy large amounts of data.

Churchill Video of the Week-Hudson Bay Railroad

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!

Everything But The Carbon Sink

The Arctic and sub-Arctic permafrost is frozen soil that for the most part stays that way all year round. Carbon is stored for thousands of years in the matter of dead plants in this frozen substrate. A carbon sink is how we used to refer to it in guiding amazing Churchill Summer trips back in the day. Nearly one quarter of the the land in the Northern Hemisphere is permafrost.

Carbon sink permafrost in Churchill, Manitoba.

Permafrost contains tons of carbon. Ed Bouvier photo.

By some scientific reports, permafrost could contain over twice as much carbon then the atmosphere already holds. Scientists believe that some of that carbon, with the increased warming in the north, is already escaping into the atmosphere in the form of carbon dioxide or methane gas. This is just the tip of the iceberg figuratively speaking.

The National Academy of Sciences estimates that the permafrost stores 1,800 billion tons of carbon which is double that which is currently held in our atmosphere. And with the warnings of global warming that we have now this statistic is of grave concern.

plant life and permafrost in Churchill.

When plant life dies it’s carbon content is absorbed into the permafrost. Steve Selden photo.

 There is no definitive way to measure exactly how much carbon will be released from the ground as temperatures rise though delaying regulation agreements in the world today. Choosing not to dramatically reduce global emissions now is a high risk gamble that seems oversimplified by many. Once the permafrost thaws and the carbon escapes in gaseous form to our atmosphere, we can’t put it back. We can’t just refreeze the ground and turn back the clock. It’s the proverbial unpredictable genie let out of the bottle…we need to be careful what we wish for.
Estimates from projected data charts show that an average of 160 billion tons of carbon could emerge from thawing permafrost by the end of this century. The National Academy  of Sciences states we need to keep atmospheric carbon down below 1,100 billion tons in order to limit temperature warming increases to 2 degrees celsius.
Arctic ice coverage has shrunk by 35 per cent over the past several decades. We have seen a stabilization of sorts over recent years even though this past winter had a record low maximum ice coverage. This coupled with other natural warning signs give reason for heightened concern over the permafrost thawing.
Polar bear by a pond in Churchill, Manitoba.

A lone polar bear skirts a pond in Churchill on permafrost that holds immense carbon deposits. Eric Rock photo.

Other than the threat to human lifestyle on earth,  11 keystone Arctic mammal species are under threat as well due to melting sea ice and global warming. Polar bears are of course the most iconic of these species. Changes need to be addressed immediately in order to reverse the fate of all these living creatures.

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