I had the good fortune to go to Churchill last summer and toured the port along with other facilities then took the train back. I actually ended up stuck there for a couple of extra days because the trains could not run due to emergency repairs needed to the track.
Even with the track difficulties, last summer was a banner year for Churchill. When I was there in August two ships came to port - one a grain ship from Europe and the other a tour ship from Russia. According to the article today the Canadian Wheat Board shipped a thirty-year high 640,000 tonnes of grain through the port and October saw their first in-bound shipment (fertilizer) in 7 years.
The main attraction for using Churchill's port is a big money savings. A trip from Liverpool to Churchill takes about 25% fewer nautical miles than Liverpool to Thunder Bay (2992 vs 4035). Less miles mean less time and both equal less cost. With tankers costing tens of thousands per day to operate while at sea, cutting a trip by 25% makes good economic sense.
|Churchill to||Thunder Bay to||Savings|
Distances in nautical miles from Port of Churchill distance chart
The line is an important one for local reasons as well. Aside from flying it is the only supply lifeline to many communities up north, not just Churchill itself. As the North booms with mineral exploration and other development the importance of a fully operational rail line to supply the region grows as well.
I hope that the money pledged arrives soon before an election ties things up and before the track, which first reached Churchill in 1929, sinks into the muskeg.