No timeline yet on Churchill rail repairs as natural resources minister visits community

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is visiting Churchill for a series of meetings on climate change and its impact on arctic waters and ice.

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr’s visit comes as Churchill residents facing propane shortage

It has been more than a year since flood waters washed out parts of the rail line to Churchill. (Mike Spence/Town of Churchill)

Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr is visiting Churchill for a series of meetings on climate change and its impact on arctic waters and ice.

His visit comes at a time when the community has to ration propane because of a shortage.

"It's just yet another hardship for the people of Churchill who have been coming through a very rough patch," Carr said.

On Friday, Manitoba's Emergency Measures Organization warned that the community's propane supply was hitting critically low levels.

It was more than a year ago flood waters cut the only rail connection to the northern Manitoba community of about 900 people, which is 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.

Denver-based Omnitrax, which owns and operated the line before the flood, refused to repair the tracks, saying it couldn't afford the cost and had been trying to sell the northern port and rail line.

Two groups representing northern communities and First Nations, One North and Missinippi Rail, joined forces with Toronto-based investment company Fairfax Financial Holdings and now have an agreement in principle to buy the beleaguered assets from Omnitrax.

Carr is hoping a tentative deal to bring ownership of the port and the rail line into Canadian hands will be finalized very soon.

"We know that the clock ticks on the season. There is another several weeks until it becomes touch and go whether or not the repair can be completed for this season," Carr said.

Ottawa will make sure the rail line is repaired but that work can't begin until a deal is finalized, he said.

"So there is certainly a sense of urgency to the negotiations and we are hopeful it will be successful and that it will be successful soon."

Churchill could be climate research centre: Carr

On Tuesday, Carr will head out on the icebreaker CCGS Amundsen for a seminar by University of Manitoba climate scientist David Barber. The seminar had originally been planned for last summer, but was called off because floating ice from the high arctic forced the icebreaker to cancel its mission.

Carr says world experts and researchers on arctic ice see Churchill as a knowledge centre and arctic strategy for Canada.

"[Barber] is one of the world's leading researchers on arctic ice and the impact of climate change on ice. And he also believes that Churchill is very well situated to lead this research because of where it is in terms of the flow of ice and water and the ability of scientists to do important work from here," Carr said.

With files from Marianne Klowak