No grain will be shipped from the Port of Churchill this year or next while the company that owns it completes repairs on the Hudson Bay Railway, which is the only ground transportation link to the Northern Manitoba town on the shore of Hudson Bay.
Glacier FarmMedia reports that Arctic Gateway Group chief executive officer Sheldon Affleck said the suspension of grain shipments will allow the company, which also owns the railway, to rehabilitate and stabilize the rail line, which runs over muskeg, with particular emphasis on the section between Gillam and Churchill, which was unusable for more than a year after damage resulting from flooding before former owner OmniTrax sold it and the port to Arctic Gateway, which itself is owned by a consortium of 29 Indigenous and 12 non-Indigenous communities, mostly in Northern Manitoba.
Arctic Gateway received $40 million from the federal government for rail repairs in August.
Passenger and freight trains will continue to run while rehabilitation work is completed.
“iI would have been very difficult to run grain trains at the same time,” Affleck said. “If you don’t bite the bullet and do your permanent solutions to the track, it’s like a potholey road that’s always under construction and you never get anything productive done. You are damaging what you are doing while you are doing it inefficiently.”
Arctic Gateway is also completing repairs to stop leaks in the roof of the grain terminal, which is otherwise in good condition.
As a result of this summer’s drought and the very brief overlap between Churchill’s shipping season and the Prairie growing season, there wouldn’t be enough grain being shipped this year to make the costs of getting the port up and running worth it. There likely will not be any leftover grain from this year to be shipped in 2022 either.
“You need a fair bit of shipping to make it worthwhile to open,” Affleck said.
Arctic Gateway is also looking at using the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill to ship CanaPux, a heavy oil combined with a small amount of recycled plastic to create a granular product that is not oily and floats on water Affleck said the port is already capably of handling CanaPux and the rehabilitation of the railway will make it possible for it to be shipped out of Churchill.
Former owner OmniTrax looked int the idea of shipping crude oil up the HudsonBay Railway and out of Churchill as a way to bring in more revenue a few years before it sold the assets but shelved the idea, in part because environmental concerns related to shipping oil by rail.