The people of Churchill have not heard the whistle of a train for 17 months…until Wednesday. The first train to reach Churchill in nearly a year and a half pulled into the station to the joyous yells and screams of townspeople running to greet the engines. This first train was just a small one with a couple of engines, flat car, and caboose. A test of tracks for longer passenger and cargo trains set to come by the end of November.
The first train complete with caboose arrived in Churchill on Wednesday. Rhonda Reid photo.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau came to Churchill to be a part of the celebration, acknowledge the suffering Churchillians have gone through and praise the groups and individuals that have bonded together to make this new beginning a reality for the northern communities.
The amazing transformation of the Hudson Bay rail line has taken a broken down system and repaired it in just over a month allowing the isolated towns of the north, including Churchill, to become part of the province infrastructure again. It truly is a historic time for Churchill and the other communities served by the railroad. Great things are just beginning to happen for this region!
This video by CTV News signals the announcement of the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay Rail Line is truly official. Churchill residents are ecstatic over the news and repairs to the rail line are already underway with hopes of finishing before the winter freeze-up hits! What amazing news for the town and everyone involved!
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.”
Polar bears from the backside. Katie de Meulles photo.
Another classic “end of polar bear season” photo from the Churchill tundra. Katie de Meulles captured this one as another memorable season come to and end. Churchillpolarbears.org hopes that the momentum of polar bear season will continue on for Churchill and soon finds a solution to the Hudson Bay Rail line crisis. Best wishes to all Churchillians for the holiday season and impending good news surrounding the sale of the Port of Churchill!
In a surprising merger of two competing groups from the north, they have now joined forces to purchase the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay rail line. This development could be a last-ditch effort to pressure the federal government to initiate track repairs before the long, cold winter sets in.
Grand Chief Arlen Dumas, an acting representative of Missinippi Rail LP, has declared that his former group, Mathias Colomb First Nation, will no longer seek ownership of the Port facilities and rail operations. He has shifted his focus to working with other parties in a bid to acquire the port and its assets currently owned by U. S. company Omnitrax.
Sun is setting on the chance to repair the Hudson Bay Rail Line. Don Wilson photo.
Dumas offered $20 million to Omnitrax as chief last June. Omnitrax accepted and the two parties signed an agreement to transfer the port, rail and marine tank farm. The Assembly of Manitoba elected him grand chief of Chiefs in July and the prior agreement dissolved.
Another set of suitors also signed the letter to the PMO. Chief Christian Sinclair of the Opaskwayak Cree Nation and Churchill mayor Mike Spence head up the coalition called One North.
“It’s got to be a mutually combined business model that will work for everybody’s interests,” Sinclair said, adding his understanding is Ottawa is ready to go with some form of a plan, but details have to be worked out.
Chief Christian Sinclair heads a group that will purchase the Port of Churchill. CBC photo.
Concerning the port and rail purchase, Chief Christian Sinclair stated recently “if we can send a man to the moon, I’m sure we can fix a rail line.”
Federal Natural Resource Minister Jim Carr released a statement on Friday saying Ottawa has made Omnitrax aware that the company is responsible for repair costs.
The government issued a release of its own that stated they have “formally demanded” the Hudson Bay Railway Company repair the Hudson Bay Rail Line per a 2008 agreement with the federal government. According to the government the agreement “requires the company to operate, maintain and repair the entire Hudson Bay Railway Line in a timely manner with diligence until March 31, 2029.”
Omnitrax staff have defended themselves by calling the rail line “a public utility,” and state they are unable to pay for the repairs.
Since late May, when floods damaged multiple sections of the rail line, Churchill residents have been without rail service from the south. Estimates between $20 and $60 million have left groups fighting to find who is responsible for the bill. Meanwhile, food prices have skyrocketed leaving locals frustrated regarding the future of the town.
Churchill Mayor Mike Spence says Omnitrax and Ottawa have to work out a deal. Sean Kavanagh CBC photo.
At this point the “repair train has left the station” so to speak. Sinclair had previously said time is critical and he could be in Winnipeg “within hours” to sign what is necessary to move ahead. However, as we near the end of September, it would take a mammoth effort to complete repairs before the winter is upon us.