Hudson Bay Railway repairs to begin immediately after sale of rail line and port to northern owners

A deal has been reached to purchase and repair the Hudson Bay Railway, the only land link to Churchill, which has been shut down between Gillam and the Hudson Bay port for 15 months due to damage caused by flooding in the spring of 2017.

Churchill’s council and Mayor Michael Spence issued a statement via social media Aug. 31 announcing that a group of northern communities, in association with Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership and Fairfax Financial Holdings & AGT Limited Partnership, had bought the railway as well as the Port of Churchill and the Churchill marine tank farm from OmniTrax.

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“Today’s news will position our community and our region for a bright future and Canada’s only deep water Arctic seaport can take its rightful place as a strategic national Arctic gateway," said the statement. “The residents and businesses of Churchill have shown great patience and resiliency during this difficult time. Significant work lies ahead including the immediate mobilizing for repairs to the rail line and to restore service.”

The port has not shipped wheat or other commodities out since OmniTrax suspended shipping operations in the summer of 2016.

A statement from the federal government said that work will begin immediately on the rail line with the goal of restoring rail service by this winter.

"I am so pleased to announce the start of the restoration of the rail line linking Churchill and the surrounding communities to the rest of Canada,” said Winnipeg Liberal MP and International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Car in a news release. “I want Canadians living in Northern Manitoba and Nunavut to know that the government of Canada understands the importance of the line to their daily lives. Thank you for your patience and to the buying group for committing to begin work on the repairs."

“The restoration of the rail line is important for the people of Churchill and the surrounding communities who depend on it for their food supply and for the export of their grain,” said Intergovernmental and Northern Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc. “Our government made a commitment to the residents of Northern Manitoba and we have delivered.”

The federal government also touted the fact that the deal involves local ownership, including First Nations.

"The progressive, collaborative approach taken to achieve the restoration of Hudson Bay Railway line represents a redefining moment in our relationships with First Nations and Inuit people in Canada,” said Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister Navdeep Bains.

“Canada's support on this transaction is consistent with a reconciliation approach to First Nation relations,” said Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs Grand Chief Arlen Dumas. “This is how it is done: not by saying 'trust us,' but by putting up the support necessary to allow us to build the foundations necessary to be successful. Canada's support on this transaction allows us to stand up alongside our partners with a defensible deal; defensible to our communities in respect of the risk they are taking on; defensible to the people that depend on this rail service as a lifeline; and defensible to the broader public in ensuring a sound commercial foundation accompanies the rejuvenation of these assets. We thank Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau and his government, and especially ministers Carr, Bains, and Morneau for their recognition of what is needed to make real and lasting positive change to our communities, and the conviction to back this recognition up with action."

“Entering into this transaction completes discussions which started back in late 2017 to repair, rehabilitate and operate the Churchill line,” said Paul Rivett, director of the Arctic Gateway Group, the name of the new ownership consortium. “All those involved agree that this generational project has the potential to create northern jobs as well as ensure that northern communities have the goods and supplies they require, while at the same time restoring and increasing trade and export capacity for natural resources and agricultural commodities through a north gateway. Phase one of the project will be to repair the rail line, undertake safety and rehabilitation upgrades to the port and the railway assets. We will commence the repairs and do all we can to restore service expeditiously and safely. We are racing against time. We will immediately begin our work to make the broader project also a reality."

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister also weighed in on the deal in an emailed statement.

“First and foremost, the conclusion of this transaction is extremely positive for all Manitobans and in particular for the people of Churchill and Northern Manitoba,” Pallister wrote. “They have endured challenging circumstances for a very long time and we have stood with them. We have consistently advocated that the federal government has a jurisdictional responsibility regarding the re-establishment of rail service and securing the future of the port for the benefit of Manitoba and the rest of Canada. We fully recognize and applaud the federal government, particularly International Trade Diversification Minister Jim Carr, for their efforts to facilitate this transaction. We look forward to working with the federal government and the new ownership group on an ongoing basis as we move forward with our Look North strategy over the months and years ahead. We are hopeful the repair of the rail line can occur as soon as possible so that service can be resumed before freeze-up. However, we want to reassure the people of Churchill and the surrounding northern communities that we have already made the financial commitments and logistical arrangements necessary to ensure propane resupply for the winter.”

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