VIA trims Manitoba service, will retrieve stranded train by ship

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A Churchill-bound VIA Rail Canada train pushes snow aside at Thompson, Manitoba, on Oct. 10, 2016.
Bob Johnston
THOMPSON, MANITOBA —With track repairs tangled in ongoing negotiations between the Canadian government, rail owner Omnitrax, and two First Nations groups who have proposed taking over the flood-damaged railroad to Churchill, Man., VIA Rail Canada is restructuring schedules to the remote community. It also expects to put the two locomotives and five passenger cars stranded in Churchill since May on a ship departing from the Hudson Bay port.

VIA announced Wednesday that it will drop one of two weekly round trips south of Thompson, Man., to Winnipeg, Man., starting Nov. 1. Tri-weekly service north of Thompson — now truncated to Gillam, Man. — is being maintained, as is the weekly round trip as far south as The Pas., Man. The rail line provides the only all-weather access to First Nations communities along its northern Manitoba route.

The adjustments mean only one set of equipment will be needed to protect the service. The sole Winnipeg departure now leaves Wednesdays from Winnipeg for Gillam, makes a Friday round-trip from there to Thompson, then a Saturday round-trip to The Pas, and finally leaves Gillam early Monday for Winnipeg, arriving Tuesday. (See schedule below.)
The revised schedule for VIA Rail Canada service in Northern Manitoba.
Meanwhile, the Winnipeg Free Press is reporting that VIA has made arrangements to move the train stranded at Churchill since mid-May on the MV Nunalik, a vessel arriving this weekend with more than 5.8 million gallons of propane gas

A statement announcing the schedule changes says, “As rust has already begun to form on exposed metal, recovering the assets at this time will enable VIA Rail to avoid the increased costs and time that would otherwise be required to repair the equipment and return it to service when (rail) infrastructure repairs are completed and service can resume safely.”

Sections of panel track delivered on a ship in September aroused suspicions among some Churchill residents that VIA would send the train south by ship instead of waiting for tracks to be repaired. The Winnipeg Free Press reported that citizens were considering a blockade to prevent the move as a means of holding the streamliner hostage, but it is not known if protesters will attempt to thwart the ocean move now that VIA has explained why the company needs to protect the equipment from further damage.
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