Unprecedented ‘flood of the century’ hits Manitoba town hard
Thursday, June 15, 2017, 7:01 PM - The mayor of Churchill, Man., is calling for federal assistance after unprecedented flooding caused the Hudson Bay Railway to shut down.
Operated by OmniTRAX, the Hudson Bay Railway 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.
Representatives from OmniTRAX say it could take months, at best, to repair the rail line. For now, it remains suspended until winter.
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"While the Hudson Bay Railway requires significant seasonal maintenance, the extent of the damage created by flooding this year is by far the worst we have ever seen," Peter Touesnard, chief commercial officer at OmniTRAX, told CBC News.
OmniTRAX staff said train service could potentially remain closed until spring of 2018 – an unacceptable outcome for the residents of Churchill, Mayor Michael Spence said.
The Hudson Bay Railway is under that water. We're going to be even more isolated for awhile.
"We are calling all orders of government to ensure the work to repair and reopen our rail line begins immediately," Spence said in a statement on Thursday. "This is the flood of the century for our region."
A preliminary assessment found the tracks had been washed away in 19 different locations, with five bridges damaged. In addition to these repairs, more structural faults will need to be examined for safety.
Rail travel to Churchill Manitoba done for this year. Future uncertain. As a former northern resident this is a heartbreak. pic.twitter.com/N9bJXj4HdX— gleason river jack (@mallaja9) June 13, 2017
Since the train routes had shut down in late May, Spence said the impact is widespread through the Arctic region.
"The sudden closure of the Hudson Bay Railway affects the entire Kivalliq Region," David Ningeongan, president of the Kivalliq Inuit Association, said in a press release from the Town of Churchill.
Kivallirmiut (also known as the Caribou Inuit) depend on the railway for the shipment of goods and services.
"The closure of the railway and subsequent diversion of goods, including vehicles and equipment, will negatively impact the 2017 sea lift season and will increase costs for suppliers and in turn consumers," Ningeongan said.
Air shipping materials is three times more costly than shipping by rail, causing prices to soar.
Churchill's historic and record-breaking water flows followed two potent blizzards in March, leading to the unprecedented flooding for Canada's only Arctic seaport.
Economic Blow: Flooding jeopardizes Churchill tourism
Beyond the rail closure's immediate impacts, it's also impacting Churchill's booming tourism industry at a critical time.
Due to a major Travel Manitoba campaign, coupled with improved services by VIA Rail, the region has seen a surge in beluga whale tourism over the past two years.
"We’ve never dealt with anything like this before," Joe Stover, a Port of Churchill staff member of over a decade, told National Observer.
"We’ve had the rail line since 1929, and people who have been around for a lot longer than I have, have said this is unprecedented."
The impact of the rail line closure extends much farther than the Churchill's community of 900. The town also acts as a barge stop along a shipping route for Nunavut, so the province is also expected to be affected by food and supply shortages.