Hudson Bay hot potato

Milk prices rise as Omnitrax, Canada spar on who will pay to reconnect the railroad to a Manitoba town
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Churchillstranded
A marooned VIA Rail train at Churchill, Manitoba.
Joe Stover
CHURCHILL, Manitoba — Two months after it was devastated by an historic flood, the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill remains out-of-service as its operator and the Canadian government are debating about who will foot the bill for the repairs. Meanwhile, food and oil prices continue to rise in Churchill, a landlocked community on the edge of the Arctic Circle, that has long relied on the railroad to connect to the outside world. The price for a gallon of milk in Churchill recently jumped to $12 a gallon.

Dozens of culverts and bridges were damaged in May during what officials have called a “200-year flood.” In June, the railroad’s owner, Colorado-based OmniTRAX, announced that service was suspended indefinitely from Amery, Man., to Churchill and that repairs were not likely going to be made before winter. The closure has also disrupted VIA Rail passenger service to Churchill.

“The damage is unprecedented and catastrophic,” Peter Touesnard, chief commercial officer at OmniTRAX, said in a statement to the media in June. “While the Hudson Bay Railway requires significant seasonal maintenance, the extent of the damage created by flooding this year is by far the worst we have ever seen.”

Earlier this month, OmniTRAX published an engineering report it commissioned to determine the extent of the damage and how much it would cost to repair. The report, completed by AECOM engineering, determined that there were 31 washouts, 13 damaged bridges and 68 damaged culverts. The report concluded that it would take 60 days to repair the line and cost anywhere from $20 million to $60 million.

OmniTRAX says it cannot afford the repairs, especially on a route with such sparse on-line traffic. But Canadian government officials says the company is legally required to maintain the route.

“OmniTrax has an obligation to repair and maintain its line and maintain service to residents, and we expect Omnitrax to meet its obligations” according to a statement from the office of the federal Minister of Transport Marc Garneau to CTV News.

Meanwhile, the Canadian government is increasing food subsidies to the city to help offset costs for residents. Manitoba has also started shipping propane by boat and stockpiling it for the long, cold winter ahead.

VIA Rail is also assessing options for a train that has been marooned in Churchill since May. VIA representative Mylene Belanger tells Trains News Wire that “options to retrieve that consist are being evaluated.” Some have suggested that the locomotives and cars will be loaded onto a ship for the trip south.

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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