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Churchill mayor 'frustrated' by passenger rail service delay

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Passenger train service to and from Churchill hasn't operated since May 31, and the town's mayor is worried the lack of service will discourage tourism.

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Passenger train service to and from Churchill hasn't operated since May 31, and the town's mayor is worried the lack of service will discourage tourism. Photo Store

The white whales are waiting in Churchill — but a frustrated local mayor says he can’t nail down Via Rail to get the tourists north to see them.

Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said a derailment recently severed train service to the northern town, about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Omnitrax completed repairs, allowing freight to resume by rail more than a week ago.

But Via still isn’t back on the rails to Churchill, the mayor said.

"Via tells me its operational review is complete but that doesn’t tell me if the train is coming to Churchill this Thursday," Spence said.

"I’ve been getting frustrated," he said.

"The beluga whales are here and our window is very short. Tourism is huge... Not everybody can afford to fly. We’ve got tourists who are stuck in Thompson who can’t get up here," the mayor said.

Locals who depend on the train are also stuck, and then there are tourists whose bags haven’t arrived because their luggage was set aside for the train when they flew north.

"Via is not telling me a heck of a lot," Spence said.

A Via Rail representative, reached at the company's Montreal head office, said Tuesday night that the operational review is not complete, that passenger rail service to Churchill is not yet available and he didn’t know when it will resume.

"We understand the concerns and we empathize. Our business is to carry passengers but under the right and safe conditions. There’s a big distinction with freight trains; we’re talking about two totally different ball games. We will not resume service until we’re sure everything is safe," the spokesman said.

The last passenger train rolled south from Churchill May 31, the mayor said.

On June 2, 13 cars carrying grain derailed just south of Churchill. Bad weather stalled repairs to the track and also prompted the cancellation of several Via trains carrying tourists.

Freight service resumed June 11 following repairs.

Omnitrax said it completed repairs to the Hudson Bay Railway line that day, and the line was "cleared in accordance with Transport Canada rules respecting track safety."

History

Updated on Tuesday, June 17, 2014 at 8:11 PM CDT: Corrects distance between Winnipeg and Churchill.

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