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U.S. based company refusing to repair rail line in Manitoba

Hailey Montgomery
Digital Reporter

Saturday, October 14, 2017, 9:50 PM - A US-based railway company faces a potential lawsuit from the Canadian government if they do not repair a stretch of flood-damaged railway that long served as the only method of on-ground transport into Churchill, Manitoba.

Transport Canada says that OmniTRAX, a private railway and transportation company headquartered in Denver, must begin to repair a damaged railway track running between Amery and Churchill in the next 30 days or face legal action. 

OminTRAX owns and operates The Hudson Bay Railway (HBR), and therefore, the government says, legally obligated to ensure the safe operation of the damaged tracks. HBR is Churchill's only rail line. The town depends on it for a variety of daily necessities – everything from fuel to food – including propane, which is used to heat almost every home in the region. 

A statement from the company in May said the track bed had been washed away in 19 places and would be closed indefinitely.

Churchill is located on the western shore of Hudson Bay, roughly 400 km north of Thompson and about 1000 km north of Winnipeg. 

The Honourable Jim Carr, Minister of Natural Resources and Winnipeg South Centre MP, said in a statment on Friday that the government and Omnitrax have yet to come to agree on solution that satisfies both parties, as the company alleges that the railway is no longer economincally viable. 

"OmniTRAX Inc. has legal obligations to repair the rail line and its tracks. To this end, we have formally demanded that the Hudson Bay Railway Company repair the rail line in line with the terms of its 2008 contribution agreement with the Government of Canada, which requires the company to operate, maintain and repair the entire Hudson Bay Railway Line in a diligent and timely manner until March 31, 2029," the statement read.

CBC News reports that American engineering firm AECON estimates the cost of repairing the damages at close to $43.5 million. The news agency says that OmniTRAX signed a contract in 2008 assuming "full responsibility for the operation, maintenance and repair of the rail line until October 2018."

OmniTRAX president Merv Tweed told the CBC that the company could not afford to pay to repair the track, and that he favoured the possibility of selling HBR.

Economic impacts 

There are no roads into Churchill. Tourists can travel to the small, sub-arctic town by either train or air. Deemed the "Polar bear capital of the world" by its official tourism site, Churchill is a popular spot for tourists who hope to see the rare bears, beluga whales, or the northern lights. According to Everything Churchill, the town's official tourism site, the best time to visit polar bears is from July to November, while whale watching season is between July and August.

The town received a major tourism boost in the past two years, due to a major Travel Manitoba campaign and improved services by VIA Rail. 

The town also acts as a barge stop along a shipping route for Nunavut, so the province has also been affected by food and supply shortages.

With files from Daksha Rangan

Source: CBC 

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