The Situation Room – Community shouldn’t be left in limbo over rail line disrepair

Mac Olsen

Never should we take rail service in the Peace Country for granted, especially when it comes to getting our oil, lumber and grain to market.

When driving through the Peace Country, I often see rail repair or maintenance being carried out. This region is a long way from rail hubs like Edmonton and the ports in Vancouver, B.C.,

We cannot afford to have the rail lines in this region to be out of commission temporarily or even discontinued. They are an essential transportation service to us.

Now picture a remote community that depends heavily on a railway for the delivery of groceries, tourists and other items – and stands to lose it because the company operating it won’t pay for necessary repairs.

The community in question is Churchill, Manitoba and the Hudson Bay Railway it depends on is owned by OmniTrax, Inc. of Denver, Colorado.

As per a report on July 18, floods shut down the service on May 24. The HBR is in need of repairs that could cost between $20-60 million, says OmniTRAX, Inc.

The company is looking to the federal and provincial governments, as well as First Nations, to pay for the repairs and says it has put $75 million into the HBR since 1997.

“We just can’t make sense out of investing more money into this railway,” chief commercial officer Peter Touensard said to CTV News.

For Churchill Mayor Mike Spence, the situation is unacceptable.

“It is frustrating,” he said. “As soon as it happened, we indicated the importance of getting a plan up and running.”

The window of time to complete the repairs is near the end of October, Spence adds. Touensard says OmniTRAX’s talks with the Manitoba Government have been focused on forming a plan B and the company isn’t optimistic the repairs will be completed until next year.

But such talk is unacceptable. Churchill, with its population of 1,000 people, is heavily dependent on the HBR to bring in ecotourists, and for goods such as groceries. Citing the CTV News report once more, a four-litre jug of milk costs $12 in Churchill.

This community should not be left in limbo because of politics. The federal and provincial governments should be willing to provide at least some money for the repairs, with the company providing the rest.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has made it his mandate to help First Nations communities across the country deal with water quality problems, poverty and suicide, which is very appropriate.

But he should also be willing to provide money for a remote community’s vital transportation infrastructure. The people of that remote community are just as deserving of federal assistance as First Nations.

Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister should be at the forefront of this issue. The people of Churchill are his responsibility, which includes ensuring that their transportation and communication needs are met.

So, Peace Country residents, don’t take your rail lines for granted.

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