The mayor of Churchill, Man., says damage to a shutdown rail line that has been a vital link for the town of 900 on Hudson Bay may not be as disastrous as first thought.
After viewing photos of some of the bridges and rail sections affected by severe flooding this spring, Mike Spence says he thinks the line could be repaired sooner than next spring if the rail line’s owners and governments move quickly.
“It shows that the bridges are intact. Some of the areas show … the road bed being taken away from in spots,” Spence said Tuesday.
“The tracks are there, but it’s the ballast that’s gone, so really it’s requiring ballast and … levelling and ties.”
The rail line is the only land connection between Churchill — a popular tourist destination famous for its polar bears and beluga whales — and the outside world.
Service has been suspended for weeks due to flooding that rail line owner Denver-based Omnitrax Inc. said resulted in “unprecedented and catastrophic” damage that is likely to take until next spring to repair.
Without the railway, people and goods have to be brought in by air — at much higher cost — or by sea during the region’s short ice-free season. Spence has already said the town may not be able to store enough propane to keep homes and businesses heated through the winter unless the rail line is fixed more quickly.
Omnitrax, which has been losing money on the line and has been trying to sell it, said Tuesday it has yet to get on the ground and fully inspect the almost-300 kilometres of remote track.
“Engineers will need to traverse much of that distance on foot to inspect 24 known breaks in the line, 28 potentially compromised bridges and 600 culverts. It is not a small undertaking,” Peter Tousenard, chief commercial officer at Omnitrax, said in a written statement.
“We anticipate that the investigation will take four weeks, with an additional two weeks required to develop a final report, including estimated costs and timelines to repair the line.”
Manitoba’s Progressive Conservative government has been approached by some groups to help subsidize repairs and the transportation of goods by air, but has not yet made any firm commitments.
Dougald Lamont, one of four candidates running for the leadership of the Manitoba Liberal Party, said the government should buy the rail line from Omnitrax and get it fixed.
“The province should take over the rail bed and treat it like a highway,” Lamont said. “The province could always make a starting offer of a dollar and work from there.”