Churchill residents relieved and optimistic as rail deal announced, repairs to begin next week
The new deal announced about the purchase of Manitoba’s troubled Hudson Bay Rail Line is being met with relief and optimism.
On Friday, the town of Churchill announced a deal had been reached to take over the rail line by a consortium of northern Manitoba communities, along with Toronto based Fairfax Financial Holdings and Regina based AGT Food and Ingredients, a large agricultural company.
The deal is a proud moment for Churchill resident Joe Stover who has been in Winnipeg training to work at the Churchill airport since April.
Stover said he knows dozens of people who had to leave the town and doesn’t want to find himself in the same situation.
When the rail line became inoperable, he said getting re-hired at his old job at the port seemed unlikely.
Almost a year and a half ago flooding damaged several parts of the track to the northern community of about 900 people.
It created economic uncertainly and caused the cost of food and supplies to skyrocket.
Stover said with the new buyer, there is a big sigh of relief.
"Have people not worrying about their futures, their children's future, if they can make it up there. Maybe for the first time in a few years we'll feel like a normal town again," he said.
Mayor Mike Spence said the deal was possible with 'a significant contribution', from the federal government but didn’t disclose the amount, and gives people in Manitoba’s north at least 50 percent ownership.
"It's really historic news,” said Spence in a phone interview with CTV News Saturday.
“Regional ownership is naturally a part of it … making sure we're investing in our infrastructure, I'm looking forward to that,” he said.
Spence said the deal means a full pullout from the line's previous owner, Omnitrax which didn't fix the train tracks saying it was too costly.
Spence hopes to see a team on the ground making repairs next week.
He said he expects they'll be completed within a couple of months, before the winter freeze-up.
In addition to the rail line, the new owners also take over the port and a petroleum storage facility.
"What we're looking at is no longer short term fixes for Churchill and that rail line, this is an organization that is committed to the long term and that can only be good for northern Manitoba,” said Manitoba Chambers of Commerce President and CEO Chuck Davidson.
VIA Rail’s passenger service to Churchill also ceased with the broken rail line.
“We are delighted that a deal has been reached and we look forward to resume our services as soon the infrastructure is determined to be safe for passenger travel. At this time, no potential date for the reopening of the railway has been confirmed,” said Chloe Simard in an email to CTV News Saturday.