The Arctic Gateway Group (AGG) has pressed the pause button on shipments of grain from The Port of Churchill in Northern Manitoba for the 2022 season while extensive repairs continue to the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR). The Port of Churchill, on Hudson Bay is Canada’s only Arctic deep-water port.
The November 16 news release by the Arctic Gateway group did not specify how long grain shipments will cease. A previous media report suggested two years.
“From the beginning, we have been saying that we are going to get this right once and for all,” said Sheldon Affleck, Chief Executive Officer of the Arctic Gateway Group. “Our aim to fix the tracks permanently and pausing grain shipments until that’s done will ensure that we have a permanent long-term solution that will make the HBR safe, sustainable and profitable.”
Passenger and freight trains carrying essential goods to northern communities as well as all customer carloads will continue along the HBR while the rail bed is being repaired.
Mr. Affleck added that the rehabilitation project is on track with several significant developments including: the establishment of an 18-person work camp located at Limestone Pit north of Gillam; the establishment of a 24-person work camp located on a 1-acre geocell reinforced site at Herchmer siding, halfway between Gillam and Churchill; the installation of about one mile (1.6 km) of geocell reinforced railbed at Thibaudeau and O’Day sidings; plans to implement innovative ground-penetrating radar in December 2021 to assess the state of the railway bed between Gillam and Churchill to determine the most cost-effective rebuild method for each mile of track; the recent completion of repairs to the Churchill Grain Terminal to seal the roof and windows against birds and weather. Pausing the grain shipments will mean significant savings and ensure the continued employment of the HBR workers, the majority of whom are Indigenous; the purchase of 12 locomotives which are in the process of receiving technology upgrades and new paint; and the purchase of a state-of-the-art track geometry test vehicle for the biweekly testing of the HBR track.
In August 2021, AGG received a $40 million federal investment through Indigenous Services Canada’s Strategic Partnerships Initiative toward the rebuilding of the rail line (the rebuilding started in 2018). Further investment will be necessary to complete the repairs.
“I am proud of what our partners, employees and contractors have accomplished in the short time frame from mid-August till freeze up,” said Affleck who became CEO of the Arctic Gateway Group in March 2021. “Work will resume in early June 2022 when the railbed is fully thawed again. We are determined to build a trade corridor to the North that will connect with the world and ensure jobs and a strong economy for Indigenous and northern communities.”
After three years of no rail traffic, Omnitrax sold the rail line in 2018 to the AGG-led consortium, which included First Nations communities. The permafrost-affected railway tracks were severely damaged by flooding in May 2017. Traffic reopened in 2019 and some 138,000 tonnes of grain passed through Churchill in the 2019-2020 marketing year, according to the Canadian grain commission. A decade earlier, grain throughput attained nearly 660,000 tonnes. (Photos from Arctic Gateway Group)