October 16, 2017
Rob Drinkwater THE CANADIAN PRESS
CHURCHILL, Manitoba — A ship has arrived in Manitoba’s northern port of Churchill, bringing propane fuel to heat the town through the winter and also carrying away a train that’s been stranded there since the rail line to the community washed out in the spring.
Churchill mayor Mike Spence says the Nunalik arrived early Sunday and began offloading 2.2 million litres of propane in large cylinders, which were ordered by the Manitoba government.
The town usually gets its propane heating fuel by rail, which is its only land link to the rest of Manitoba, but the track hasn’t been fixed and its owners are in a battle with the federal government over the responsibility for repairs.
A Via Rail train was in Churchill when the floods hit and hasn’t been able to leave.
For months, Via said it was deliberating options for what to do about the two locomotives and five passenger cars, but said in a news release earlier this month that it would take the train by ship to Montreal for maintenance.
Some people in the town had discussed forming a blockade to prevent the train from leaving by ship, but the town issued a request on Friday asking people to allow workers to get the train loaded.
“While the town’s desire was to see these rail cars be removed on a repaired rail line, we recognize that is not possible at this time,” the statement read.
“Via Rail is an important partner in our community and will remain so well into the future.”
Spence said people are disappointed the train is leaving by sea lift, but have not obstructed work to get the rail stock to the ship.
He said they understand the train would be damaged if it sat all winter.
“The community respects the fact that Via Rail is not the culprit here,” Spence said, noting the train would be loaded onto the Nunalik once the incoming cargo is on shore.
The ship also brought other items, including a tundra buggy for a local tour operator.
Via noted the train is already getting rusty, and that recovering it now will save time and money that would be needed to get it running again for when the line is repaired and service to Churchill can safely resume.
“Should the equipment remain exposed to the elements much longer, it would require a comprehensive overhaul to ensure its safe return to operation,” Via said in a news release.
The town of 900 is known for its polar bears and beluga whales, but has seen a drop in tourism numbers and goods and people have had to be flown in at high cost since the train stopped running.
The 250-kilometre track is estimated to require $43 million in repairs.
A recent report from independent engineering firm AECOM predicted that 60 days would be needed to get the track fixed well enough to handle lighter loads.
Ottawa issued an ultimatum last week to Omnitrax, the Denver-based owners of the broken line, ordering the company to make the necessary repairs within 30 days of face an $18.8-million lawsuit.
Omnitrax, which has been in talks to sell the rail line, responded by saying the rail line is no longer economically viable.