OneOn Monday, the Port of Churchill handed layoff notices to approximately 50 of its workers and gave notice that it will not be shipping any more grain this year. This effectively shuts the port down, although reports indicate that it will be officially open until August 6th.
Omnitrax, based in Denver, owns both the port and the Hudson Bay Railway that serves the port and other northern communities.
TwoOn Tuesday, one of the major shippers to the north, Gardewine North, was informed that the Hudson Bay Railway will be cutting their service in half and only running one freight train per week.
|Gardewine North truck trailer on flatcar, Thompson, MB|
You may recall that the railway and port were both put up for sale in December. Soon afterward a group of First Nations sent a letter of intent to purchase the line, but apparently this has fallen through.
There's more bad news for the Hudson Bay Railway with the announced closure of the Tolko kraft mill in The Pas, Manitoba..
EDIT: also apparently someone set one of their (dormant) locomotives on fire.
What To Do?It's difficult to know what to do.
Churchill is not required as a grain port as grain is normally shipped to Vancouver and Thunder Bay and both have recently expanded their facilities. With climate change and the thawing of the Northern Passage there is a possibility of increased shipping in the far north. Churchill is the only rail-accessible deep-water Arctic port in Canada and it has some strategic importance.
However, it is losing money and the railway is expensive and difficult to maintain. Omnitrax wants out and I can't see CN stepping in to buy the line back.
I think the only chance to save the port and/or railway is for the federal government to resume subsidies. The current Churchill Port Utilisation Program is set to end after the 2016 shipping season.
One alternative is for the federal government to acquire the port again. The mayor of Churchill is calling for this.
We shall see what happens in the next week or two. Omnitrax has said nothing so far but no doubt the pressure is increasing on them to make a statement. Manitoba's premier has called this move "leveraging on the fears and hopes and the security of Manitobans".
UPDATE: Omnitrax responded to some of CBC's questions. Lots of finger-pointing on all sides.
Is it time to consider building a road all the way to Churchill?