Canadian Manufacturing

Residents could be isolated for a year after floods damage Northern Manitoba rail line

The damage comes at a terrible time for Manitoba businesses; track owner Omnitrax last year suspended operations at the grain terminal at the Port of Churchill and has been trying to sell the port and rail line


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The Hudson Bay Railway at the Port of Churchill, Canada’s only Arctic deep-water seaport. PHOTO Omnitrax

CHURCHILL, Man.—Omnitrax, the owners of the Hudson Bay Railway line to Churchill, Man. said June 9 that flooding damage to the track is so severe that service is suspended until at least the winter and possibly next spring.

Business owners and residents of an isolated Manitoba community say help is needed following news that their only land link may be cut off.

Omnitrax decision to shut the line forced passenger train service provider Via Rail to also suspend operations indefinitely.

“The whole town is very stressed, very depressed,” said one worker in Churchill who wouldn’t give her name.

“The government needs to step in.”

Businesses left hanging
“Believe it or not, northern Manitoba and Churchill are exotic locales for people from all over the world,” said John Gunter of Frontiers North Adventures.

Frontiers North provides package tours and takes travellers to see polar bears in bus-like tundra buggies. A tour group was planning to arrive by train in the autumn, Gunter said, and he’s been scrambling to make arrangements for them to fly instead.

Gunter said he’s also having to make alternate arrangements for vehicles, construction materials and other supplies that are too large to come by plane. They’ll now arrive by barge from Montreal, he said, but at much greater expense.

Prices for food that restaurants in Churchill serve to visitors is also expected to rise, due to the extra cost of flying it in.

A head of broccoli in Churchill already costs $8.75.

Olivia Billson, a spokeswoman for Infrastructure Minister Blaine Pedersen, said the province has been advised an airline will provide twice-a-week service to Churchill and that the province “will take further steps as warranted to ensure the safety and well-being of all Manitobans.”

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence has called for both the provincial and federal government to pay for the difference for freight.

Gunter said the train trip to Churchill across prairies, boreal forest and tundra is part of the adventure for many visitors, and that polar bears are among the top things people think about when they think of Canada.

Omnitrax also announced last year it was suspending operations at the grain terminal at the Port of Churchill, then scaled back freight service on the rail line. The Denver-based company has been trying to sell the port and rail line to a First Nations consortium.

“We’ve heard nothing and I think it’s that lack of communication and that vacuum of information, that has been really stressful for everybody involved,” Gunter said.

“So, say yes, or say no. Say something so we can make our own plans if we have to.”


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