Suspension of Churchill's only rail line forcing business owners to lay off workers
'We don't know how we're going to survive, to be honest'
At least five workers in the Town of Churchill have been let go after the only train into the northern Manitoba community suspended its service, and business owners are warning more layoffs could be afoot.
"Quite heartbreaking," said Belinda Fitzpatrick, owner of the 31-room Tundra Inn and 10-bed hostel, who had to deliver the bad news to five workers Saturday.
It's our lifeline to our community.- Belinda Fitzpatrick
"It was really upsetting."
Fitzpatrick had planned to open a seasonal restaurant next week, but the closure of the rail line by Denver-based OmniTrax has now crushed those plans.
"It's our lifeline to our community," she said.
OmniTrax says the rail line has suffered unprecedented and catastrophic damage that won't be fixed until the winter or even as late as next spring.
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"It's very nerve-racking," said Dale de Meulles, who together with his wife Rhoda has run Churchill's hardware and lumber store for the past 14 years — a shop they may soon have to close.
"We don't know how we're going to survive, to be honest," said Rhoda de Meulles.
The couple said they've already started to warn staff about looming layoffs — without supplies from the rail line, the Churchill Home Building Centre can't survive.
Dale de Meulles said 10 of his staff members will likely lose their jobs if the rail line isn't reopened in the next two months.
'We're just trying to survive'
"We're trying our best to keep them," he said. "They gotta feed their families just like everybody else."
He said layoffs last year at the Port of Churchill have already made business tough and taken a hit on his family's wallet.
"We're just trying to survive."
Still, he's not giving up hope.
"As a Churchillian, we will never give up," de Meulles said. "We've [had] so many hurdles in front of us and we keep jumping over them, but we need help this time."
Calls for military to help fix rail line
Rhoda de Meulles wants the federal government to send in the Canadian military to clean up and reopen the rail line, but that will take work.
OmniTrax says the track bed is washed away in 19 locations, with at least five bridges damaged, and 600 culverts need to be inspected for structural integrity.
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CBC News has contacted Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale's office for comment.
Fitzpatrick is now contacting guests who were booked to stay at her hotel and hostel this summer to see if they can afford to fly into the community instead of travelling by train.
But she's not getting her hopes up.
There have already been cancellations, and she estimates she will lose 90 per cent of guests who had planned to stay at her hostel — many were planning to come to Churchill with Via Rail's sold-out Canada 150 youth pass.