Sunday, 26 July 2009

Churchill's VIA Woes

Nice to see the breaking news that VIA is going back to work for now.

Mayor Michael Spence of Churchill told CTV yesterday that the strike could mean a 40% reduction in tourism, as this is beluga whale season. It's yet another frustration for a town that relies so much on the rails.

Back in the summer of 2007 I had the chance to visit Churchill. That was the summer of rail woes. Bad track conditions led to derailments and, for a while, a stop order for all trains. When I arrived, certain foods were not to be had, there were no plastic bags at the grocery store and tourists found themselves stranded either in Winnipeg or, in my case, Churchill.

I waited out the order and took advantage of the extra three days by doing some sightseeing. I had a chance to talk to Mayor Spence about the frustrations of rail disruptions. It impacted tourism dollars, town supplies and the reliability of the port to both ship and receive goods further north, where a mineral exploration boom is going on, and internationally. (That Autumn, for the first time, a Russian ship docked at the port with a load of fertilizer for distribution throughout the west).

Later in the year it was announced that the prov and feds would invest $40 million for improvements to the 1,300 km of rail line that runs from The Pas to Churchill, (it's estimated that 350,000 – 400,000 ties will be replaced). In 2008, repairs began on the Churchill to Gilliam phase. I haven't seen an update for 2009 but work was set to continue.

Hopefully, arbitration will settle the labour dispute and Churchill can be assured of undisrupted service.
Bayline Bailout: Omnitrax & Hudson Bay Railway Hudson Bay Post (pdf)
Hudson Bay Railway (HBRY) Overview
A History of the Hudson Bay Railway MB Historical Society

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