Friday, September 01, 2017

Movement on the Churchill Rail Line At Last?

View of Churchill from the 1960s. Photographer unknown.
There might be hope for the Churchill rail line after all. Maybe. It's been a busy week.

The Governments Speak

The federal government issued a press release today "formally demanding" that the Hudson Bay Railway (owned by Omnitrax) repair the railway line to Churchill, Manitoba. The government "is willing to look at all options" including seeking repayment of the $18.8 million it contributed in 2008, as well as "exploring the possibility of working with a new owner." (also CBC article)

Meanwhile, the provincial government is ready to spend $500 million over 10 years to support Churchill, although that would not go to rail repairs as that is a federal responsibility.

You may recall that Omnitrax held a press conference back in July to announce the findings of its engineering survey, and that it would cost up to $60 million to repair the line. Since then... nothing has happened.

The Alberta Connection

Earlier this week, a United Conservative Party leadership candidate, Jeff Callaway, suggested that Alberta should buy the port and rail line to be used to ship oil from Alberta. That was met with strong opposition from Churchill leaders.

The idea of shipping oil through Churchill was "floated" by Omnitrax a few years ago. By August 2014 the idea was dead (my blog post).

Given the relatively frequent derailments and inaccessibility of most of the rail line, an oil spill would be difficult to clean up and potentially disastrous for the environment. I'm not surprised by the opposition.

VIA Rail Extraction?

VIA Rail's train set continues to sit beside the station in Churchill. A day or two ago, there were rumours that VIA was going to ship the train out by barge.

The president of the local Chamber of Commerce, Dave Daley, said Tuesday that "the train isn't leaving here unless it's leaving by the tracks. Because we'll blockade it and we'll make it sure it doesn't leave." (Facebook post of a Winnipeg Free Press article)

It seems unlikely that the Port employees would permit such a move.

Incidentally, Omnitrax doesn't have any locomotives in Churchill. VIA is the only company with rail equipment there.


It's been a bit over 14 weeks since the rail line was severed by unprecedented flooding.

It has been so long that even the New York Times has weighed in with an article.

Time is running short for the construction / repair season.

We'll wait and see if anything happens in the next week or two!


The two First Nations groups that were competing to buy the port of Churchill and rail line have agreed to merge. They sent a jointly signed letter to the Prime Minister's Office. This puts the ball in the PMO's court to approve the sale so Omnitrax can be done with the line, and the funding for repair can start.

See Also

1 comment:

Unknown said...

The cost to upgrade the class of rail into Churchill from what it was before the flooding to a level where flamables can be transported is probably cost prohibitive. I haven't read anything that says whether there is any equipment to unload tankers and load a ship. Add that to the capital costs and it gets real ugly.