The Situation Room – Feds move to lawsuit with OmniTrax over Churchill rail line

Mac Olsen

Kudos to the federal government in proceeding with a lawsuit against U.S. based OmniTRAX Inc. for not maintaining its rail line to Churchill, Manitoba.

On Nov. 14, the federal government announced it’s proceeding with the lawsuit to force the company to repair the Hudson Bay Railway line, which runs from The Pas to Churchill.

“Our Government remains committed to the people of Churchill and Northern Manitoba and we recognize the importance of the rail line for the community,” says Transport Minister Marc Garneau in a news release.

“We also believe it is important to hold OmniTrax accountable and that is why we are moving ahead with legal action.”

The news release also says OmniTrax Inc. is required under its agreement with the federal government to operate, maintain and repair the entire Hudson Bay Railway Company Line in a diligent and timely matter until March 31, 2029.

Also, the federal government agreed to provide $20 million to the company to rehabilitate that rail line and Transport Canada has paid out $18.8 million to date.

Aside from shipping at the port in Churchill, the community’s only other physical link with the outside world is the rail line.

While residents and businesses rely on it for their goods, services and tourism, the rail line ceased to function earlier this year.

The rail line is not something that can just be thrown away. It is essential to Churchill’s existence and survival.

I have knowledge about the OmniTRAX issue because I worked at the Thompson Citizen in Thompson, Manitoba in the early 2000’s.

The company was dealing with the HBR maintenance issue then, but it hadn’t refused to perform its responsibilities at that time.

I also wrote about this subject in a previous column back in the late summer.

I commented that communities in this region of Alberta are dependent on the rail line, and I appreciate all the maintenance that is continuously being done to keep it in good shape.

The rail line is vital to get grain, lumber products and oil out of this region to other Canadian and foreign markets. If the rail line was suddenly abandoned, yes, we would still have the highways for commercial transport.

But the commercial transport industry might not be able to pick up the burden of getting our products to market. I would not even suggest that they take on such a burden.

And I am absolutely sure that if the rail line in this region was allowed to fall into a state of disrepair as the HBR has, there would be calls on the federal government to take similar action here. I think we would be able to identify with what Churchill is dealing with now.

I am very thankful that we have the rail service we do in this region and I commend the crews that go out week after week and month after month, in all weather, to inspect, repair and replace the rails that need it.

And let’s hope that OmniTRAX Inc. will do the right thing for the people of Churchill.

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