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One year later, Churchill residents still waiting for rail line fix

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WATCH: The Town of Churchil has been cut off from their land-based supply route for an entire year since the rail line washed out on May 23, 2017 – May 22, 2018

On-going disputes, legal battles and frustrated citizens.

It’s what the Town of Churchill, roughly 1,000 kms from Winnipeg, has been dealing with for an entire year since the rail line washed out on May 23, 2017.

READ MORE: Residents leaving Churchill since rail line wash out

The rail line is the only land transportation, which brings in propane, food and other vital goods to the northern community, connecting the town of 900 people on the shore of Hudson Bay.

The Canadian company iChurchill Inc. had been progressing with their intent to purchase the rail line and other assets from Omnitrax, but issued a statement Monday saying the business had “halted its negotiations… due to the Government of Canada’s unwillingness to engage in meaningful dialogue.”

Churchill Mayor Michael Spence issued an email Tuesday in response to the iChurchill matter. Spence said the community has been making a significant effort toward a resolving their supply issues.

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“Our efforts regarding the Hudson Bay Rail Line and Port of Churchill have been extensive. Our unprecedented regional partnership with all Bay Line communities, Northern First Nations, and the Kivalliq region of Nunavut have been working towards a transfer of ownership since July 2016,” Spence stated.

Residents in Churchill are frustrated and upset.

“Nothing is happening. There’s no shovels in the ground. There’s no resolution,” Patricia Kandiurin said. “We’re held hostage, still ordering food from the south, paying big freight costs. It’s never ending.”

Mayor Spence said he is hopeful the town will have a deal done soon with a northern group they’ve been in negotiations with for months.

“Last summer following the damage to the Hudson Bay Rail Line we partnered with the government of Canada after receiving their commitment of support. We further partnered with Fairfax/AGT and Missinippi Rail in the fall. We continue our work towards a successful negotiation that will see a transfer of ownership conclude with the rail line repaired and rail service restored.”

READ MORE: Tourism industry in Churchill taking hit since rail line wash-out last spring

Spence also commented on the feeling amongst members of the community with the arrival of the one-year anniversary.

“We did not want to find ourselves at this point. One year without rail service is unacceptable. Our community is resilient and will get through this,” Spence said.

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He added the community continues to believe that negotiations will pay off and that repairs will begin soon.

“We’ve been quiet long enough, we’ve been patient, we’ve tried to be understanding and everyone is frustrated,” Kandiurin said.

The town is holding a rally on Wednesday, to mark the one year anniversary of the flood and rail line washout.

“We need to do something and it needs to be done,” she said. “We need to be heard, we need to vent our frustrations.”

READ MORE: ‘It’s a shocking and sad day for Churchill’: Gypsy’s Bakery ‘a total loss’ after fire

The train was suspended last June due to the havoc caused by severe spring flooding.

In July, Omnitrax said the cost of repairing the line by October 2017, in time to have the train start running before winter, would come with a $60 million price tag, and the company said it wasn’t “economically feasible” for them to cover the bill.

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The train station in Churchill has been closed since Spring 2017 after the rail line washed out. Jordan Pearn/Global News
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It has been one year since spring flooding disabled the supply route to Churchill. Omnitrax / Supplied
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Pictures who extensive damage to rail tracks heading to Churchill after flooding. OmniTrax / Submitted
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Serious damage done to rail line after serious flooding in northern Manitoba. OmniTRAX / Submitted
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Serious damage done to rail line after serious flooding in northern Manitoba. OmniTRAX / Submitted

Omnitrax asked the feds and the province, along with First Nations, to pitch in cash.

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In October, the government said Omnitrax had 30 days to fix the Hudson Bay Railway to Churchill or face an $18.8-million lawsuit.

Ottawa said Omnitrax, which bought the rail line from the government in 1997, had a legal obligation to fix and maintain it under a 2008 agreement that included $18.8 million in federal support for repairs and upgrades.

READ MORE: OmniTrax responds to federal lawsuit, filing complaint under NAFTA

Omnitrax and the federal government have been locked in a court battle over the issue, which has yet to be resolved.

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