October 22, 2018

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Churchill rail repairs nearly done

Still unclear when rail service will resume

Arctic Gateway / FACEBOOK</p>

Arctic Gateway / FACEBOOK

Churchill residents are feeling relieved after crews reached a milestone on the way to restoring rail service to their isolated community.

On Saturday, work crews wrapped up a month-long effort to repair the many washouts on the tracks between Gillam and Churchill. Repair crews and hi-rail trucks are expected to arrive in the coming days to work on final preparations, such as culvert replacements and shoulder reinforcements, for the restoration of rail service. Federal inspections will follow.

It’s unclear when rail service to the northern community of about 900 people will resume, though Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said the project is nearing completion.

“It is our hope that Transport Canada inspections can take place as soon as possible. This is still all weather-dependent, but we are feeling confident,” Spence said by email Monday.

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Churchill residents are feeling relieved after crews reached a milestone on the way to restoring rail service to their isolated community.

On Saturday, work crews wrapped up a month-long effort to repair the many washouts on the tracks between Gillam and Churchill. Repair crews and hi-rail trucks are expected to arrive in the coming days to work on final preparations, such as culvert replacements and shoulder reinforcements, for the restoration of rail service. Federal inspections will follow.

It’s unclear when rail service to the northern community of about 900 people will resume, though Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said the project is nearing completion.

"It is our hope that Transport Canada inspections can take place as soon as possible. This is still all weather-dependent, but we are feeling confident," Spence said by email Monday.

"It took us a long time to reach this point, but thanks to the support of the federal government, we can now see the light of the end of the tunnel. We’re close."

Churchill resident Patricia Kinduirin is helping plan a street party to celebrate the trains rolling back to town. There will be food, music and a bonfire — so to speak.

"I have an Omnitrax banner that I am going to burn at our party," Kinduirin said, referring to the company that formerly owned the railway.

"It’s the best feeling in the world, knowing we are not cut off anymore from the ‘outside’ world," she said in a Facebook message. "Those that cannot afford airfare can reconnect with their families again. Our school kids can travel in more school trips, once the passenger train is cleared to travel on the tracks."

On Thursday, Arctic Gateway Group, the new owner of the rail line, warned that the company might not be able to restore service until spring because of recent snowfall and a deadly derailment last month that closed a section of the line and killed a 38-year-old worker.

In a written statement Sunday, spokesman Murad Al-Katib said he’s pleased with the progress, but more work still needs to be done.

"We will vigilantly continue the remaining works as quickly as possible, with our minds on the safety of our workforce and the operations of our railway. We are hopeful that weather conditions remain favourable," Al-Katib said.

If the rail line can’t be opened this season, Churchill will have to endure a second winter without rail shipments, meaning higher prices on everything from food to fuel. The rail line closed in May 2017 after flooding caused more than a dozen washouts to sections of the track.

Arctic Gateway Group — which includes members of Fairfax Financial Holdings Limited, AGT Food and Ingredients Inc., and First Nations consortium Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership — took control of the Hudson Bay Railway on Aug. 31.

In June 2017, Spence said he believed repairs could be done within two months if the town had some control of the rail line.

"We are feeling relieved. It has been a very challenging time," he said Monday, shortly after greeting crews who completed the first inspection of the re-constructed line.

"Besides the high costs of goods, many families have not been able to visit loved ones, school trips have been affected and building projects have been postponed. But most of all, economic development opportunities have been missed. With stable ownership, we are looking forward to being able to invest and plan for the future. I expect the whole town will come out and cheer on the first train that arrives."

ryan.thorpe@freepress.mb.cajessica.botelho@freepress.mb.ca

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski
Legislature reporter

Jessica Botelho-Urbanski covers the Manitoba Legislature for the Winnipeg Free Press.

Read full biography

Ryan Thorpe

Ryan Thorpe
Reporter

Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.

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History

Updated on Tuesday, October 9, 2018 at 8:46 AM CDT: Removes PDF

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