Sunday, September 02, 2018

Churchill Line to be Repaired

From Mike Spence / Town of Churchill
It's hard to believe, but a deal has been reached to sell the rail line to Churchill, and to repair it. I wasn't entirely sure this day would ever come!

Since the rail line washed out in numerous places in late May 2017, there have been many calls to the owner, Omnitrax, to repair the line. They commissioned an engineering survey and announced in July 2017 that it would cost a zillion dollars up to $60 million to repair the line. Since then, not much has happened.

Now, everything has changed.

A consortium of First Nations, Fairfax Financial Holdings, and AGT Limited Partnership - collectively called Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership - have purchased the railway line, the Port of Churchill and the marine terminal in Churchill from Omnitrax.

I have to assume that the entire Hudson Bay Railway is part of the deal, which would include the branch to Flin Flon as well as the main line between The Pas and Churchill.

I think it is very encouraging that two groups of First Nations and northern communities - One North and Missinippi Rail - are involved. This includes 30 First Nations, 11 non-First Nations communities in Manitoba, and seven Kivalliq communities in western Nunavut. Local ownership should encourage usage in ways that Denver-based Omnitrax couldn't envision.

Repairing the Churchill Line

There's no official word on who will be hired to repair the line. I've heard rumours but nothing has been announced yet. All reports say that repairs should begin immediately. Time is certainly running out!

Hopefully it will take a lot less than $60 million to open the line and get freight and passengers moving again. I imagine they could get the line open for freight before winter. It might take a long time for a freight to crawl over the line, but it's still a lot better than waiting for a ship!

Passenger Service to Resume?

The Gillam-Winnipeg train... hopefully soon the Churchill-Winnipeg train again?
It's very premature to speculate on when VIA Rail will resume service. I imagine they will do so as soon as it is safe to do so. You may recall they had to extract their stranded train by ship late in 2017.

VIA has been running one weekly train between Winnipeg and Gillam (VIA 692/693), as well as a train between The Pas and Gillam (VIA 690/691) and between Thompson and Gillam (VIA 694/695). They're doing the best they can, given that the track is impassable not far north of Gillam.

I'm sure railfans will be watching this closely... I'll be reporting on my Twitter feed and here when I can.

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