Churchill rail line deal coming within days: sources
Published Friday, May 4, 2018 9:02PM EDT
Nearly a year after floodwaters in Manitoba washed out Churchill’s only land link to the south, a deal may finally be coming to restore the Hudson Bay Railroad.
“It has been a very challenging year for us,” Churchill Mayor Mike Spence told CTV News Channel on Friday. “Basically, it’s your connection to the outside world.”
Located in northern Manitoba on the shores of Hudson Bay, Churchill is an isolated community of about 900 people that has long been a popular tourism destination for viewing polar bears, beluga whales and the northern lights. But with the loss of its rail link to Winnipeg last spring, prices on everything from food to building supplies have skyrocketed in the town, which currently can only be reached by air.
Omnitrax, the U.S.-based company that owns the heavily-damaged rail line, has repeatedly refused to conduct repairs necessary to get it running again, claiming the work would be too costly. In November, the federal government sued Omnitrax for failing to repair and maintain the rail line.
“Basically, it’s your highway,” Spence said of the rail line. “It’s vitally important.”
On Thursday it was announced that a consortium of Manitoba First Nations had formed a partnership with a company called iChurchill Inc. and entered into an acquisition agreement to purchase the rail line and the Port of Churchill from Omnitrax.
On Friday, however, CTV News learned that Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings and another group of Manitoba First Nations are expected to have a deal in place with Omnitrax within days to acquire the rail line and port. The town of Churchill has been working on the Fairfax bid along with the federal government and two entities that represent First Nations and communities along the rail line: One North and Missinippi Rail LP.
“We’re not aware who they are,” Spence said of iChurchill. “We just want to get the transfer of ownership to us.”
But whether iChurchill or Fairfax ultimately purchases the rail line is largely irrelevant to Spence -- he just wants to see it functioning again after what he says has been a “frustrating” and “difficult” year.
“We just want to get the line up and running so that we can get our lives back,” he said. “It’s all about getting the line purchased and the port up and running.”