Readers will recall that Omnitrax LLC, the owners of the Hudson Bay Railway that serves the deepwater port at Churchill, failed to make repairs or to formally discontinue service under the Transportation Act following significant damage to the line caused by spring flooding back in 2017.
In August, a consortium of more than 30 first nations communities, AGT, and Fairfax, operating under the name The Arctic Gateway Group, purchased the railway and port facility from Omnitrax and promptly started on crucial repairs to washed out sections of track and bridges. These operations continued through October, and on Hallowe’en night the first train in more than a year arrived to celebrations by the local community. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made an appearance. Reports indicate the Federal Government provided financial assistance for purchase and maintenance totalling $117 million over 10 years.
The repair of the railway and resumption of services did not come without difficulties. On September 15th a train derailed between Winnipeg and Thomson, killing one crew member and injuring another. Although the particular section of track had been inspected mere days earlier, a buildup of water – possibly the result of beaver activity – had caused the embankment to erode, resulting in a significant gap.
The port is Canada’s only deepwater arctic port, providing an alternative to the St Lawrence Seaway for exports of western grain to Europe. The railway provides a crucial lifeline for supplies – especially of food – and tourism revenues to the remote communities. It is not yet known when regular passenger service will resume.