Churchill Railway Limbo – Video

The Hudson Bay Line is still in limbo with the Port of Churchill still up for sale by Omnitrax. This video was earlier in the discovery process of just what the next steps should be to repair and reinstate train service to Churchill. Churchill residents and town officials are getting fed up with the same old rhetoric they are being fed from Omnitrax and the Canadian Government! We’re hoping for a speedy resolution to the crisis.

Omnitrax Has Rail Assessment

Hudson Bay line rail damage. CBC photo.

Omnitrax, owner of the Port of Churchill and the damaged Hudson Bay Rail – Line, has apparently obtained an assessment of the severely damaged railroad tracks between Gillam and Churchill. After meeting with Transport Canada officials this past Monday, Omnitrax seems to have a clearer notion of what it will take to repair the tracks.

The company has not yet released the findings and any strategic, updated plan to commence work in the near future. After 13 weeks of inoperability, the Hudson Bay line still sits damaged by spring floods resulting from two historic March blizzards. An August 4th updated engineering report detailing estimated costs for repairs was obtained by Omnitrax though they vowed to divulge the findings only after meeting with Transport Canada.

In early July, repair estimates by Omnitrax ranged between $20 and $60 million which they emphatically stated were “not economically viable”. However, the Canadian government continually insists that the company is responsible via federal transportation laws to keep the lifeline to the north running. Transport Canada, the enforcing agency for the law will not initiate an investigation until it received specific complaints from citizens and other agencies.

Correspondence so far from complainants has not been addressed directly to movement of goods and rail line abandonment prompting responses from some Churchill residents that Ottawa and Omnitrax are dragging their feet in the process. Telling Churchillians they have basically not “complained properly” is not sitting right with many of the distraught residents.

Damaged Hudson Bay rail line. CBC photo.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, mayor of Churchill, instead of encouraging residents to file complaints with the regulator has instilled trust in Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Trudeau pledged he would find a solution on July 28. Trudeau, however, hasn’t said how he plans to proceed.

Home Hardware owner Rhoda deMeulles exemplifies the business owners woes in town by expressing her frustration on lack of supplies due to no cargo arriving via rail. “It’s hard to realize what you need all at once,” said deMeulles, whose store is close to running out of construction supplies and cash.

“We feel like we’re in jail,” said deMeulles, who still loves the town she adopted 38 years ago. “We need help; we need our rail line back.”

Something has to give as the government continues to subsidize groceries for the town. Everyone is expecting a decision by Omnitrax soon, possibly as early as next week.

Churchill Sunday Photo – Port of Uncertainty

Port of Churchill

The Port of Churchill has been a symbol of uncertainty in Churchill. Katie de Meulles photo.

The uncertainty surrounding the Port of Churchill sale by owner Omnitrax from Colorado to a native alliance coupled with the natural destruction of the Hudson Bay Line has left Churchillians wondering the future of their town. This photo of the port captures the plight and the promise of the the time all in one image!

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.

Omitrax Hit With Arson in The Pas

The Pas arson

Railroad ties owned by Omnitrax in the Pas were destroyed by arson. RCMP photo.

A $5,000 reward is being offered by Omnitrax Canada for information that helps locate an arsonist that destroyed about $1 million worth of railroad ties that were to be used this summer on the Hudson Bay rail – line.

Fire lit up the sky around 5:30 a.m. in The Pas Monday morning from the Hudson Bay Railway yard. With relations strained between local residents and Omnitrax due to their recent abandonment of the Port of Churchill, communities all along the Hudson Bay rail-line are running high on emotions.

Omnitrax will offer the bounty to someone who can supply information leading to both an arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for the fire. Fortunately, no people were injured during the blaze.

“We are very troubled by this terrible act,” Omnitrax Canada president Merv Tweed said in a release.

The company has set up a tip line at 204-947-0033. The local RCMP number is 204-627-6204.

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