OmniTRAX estimates it sunk more than $75 million into the Hudson Bay Railway between 1997 and 2015, and claims deeper losses have mounted over the past year. The cost of restoring rail access to Churchill, according to the company, is somewhere between $20 million and $60 million. The U.S. rail company that owns the severed line to Churchill, Man. has a plan to restore the only means of land-based transportation in and out of the community before winter. But it says the price of repairing damage caused by severe flooding in May is too steep for a route it has deemed no longer commercially viable.
Denver-based OmniTRAX Inc., one of North America’s largest private railroad and transportation companies, is looking to governments and First Nations to foot the bill for what it says is essentially a public utility.
“We just can’t make sense out of investing more money into this railway,” chief commercial officer Peter Touesnard told CTV News, following a technical briefing with various stakeholders on Tuesday. “For the last 20 years, we’ve been attempting to operate it as a commercial business, but unsuccessfully. With the flood, it really highlighted the point that this is not a commercially viable operation.” Aerial view of the port of Churchill, Man., on Friday, Oct. 5, 2007. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/John Woods) Floods shut down rail service on May 24, cutting off all ground transportation in and out of Churchill. The company estimates it sunk more than $75 million into the Hudson Bay Railway between 1997 and 2015, and claims deeper losses have mounted over the past year. The cost of restoring rail access to Churchill, according to the company, is somewhere between $20 million and $60 million.
Floods shut down rail service on May 24, cutting off all ground transportation in and out of Churchill.
“We see that it can be built before spring, but it will take a lot of cooperation and money to do that,” Touesnard said. “We will be looking to meet with the province, looking to meet with the federal government, and looking to meet with First Nations leaders to advance the discussions that we had here today.”
Churchill Mayor Mike Spence has heard enough talk. He said residents are angry that no physical progress has been made after nearly two months of being virtually stranded.
“Were running out of time here,” he told reporters on Tuesday. “It is frustrating. As soon as it happened, we indicated the importance of getting a plan up and running.”
Spence said the window of time for completing repairs before winter will close near the end of October.
Finishing the job will be an undoubtedly tall order. No materials have been ordered due to the lack of funding. Touesnard figures buying supplies, and getting essential equipment to Churchill will require $12 million, before accounting labour costs.
Touesnard is not optimistic that OmniTRAX’s repair plan will be carried before snow starts to fly. He said his talks with the Manitoba government have so far focused on forming a plan B.
“Most of the work we have been doing with them to this point has been around contingencies, around emergency response and so on,” he said. “We are concerned that the rail line will not be rebuilt until the spring of next year.”
Meanwhile, the cost of living in a “fly-in” community is weighing heavily on residents. The province upped its food affordability subsidy on Tuesday to help ease the burden of skyrocketing prices for essentials like milk, infant formula, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
The price for a four-litre jug of milk is currently $12.
Spence worries the lack of rail access will cut into Churchill’s […]
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