Excitement builds in Churchill as 1st rail vehicles arrive in town in more than a year
The inspection vehicles were the first traffic since the washout in May 2017
The first rail traffic in more than a year rolled into Churchill Monday, one day after the last washout along the track was repaired. Two hi-rails — trucks converted to run along railways — made the trek from Gillam to Churchill, arriving around 2 p.m.
It marks one more step toward reconnecting the northern community, 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg, to the rest of the province to the south since the spring melt washed out the tracks in May 2017.
"Naturally people are pretty excited about it. They see that there is rail repairs coming, they'll be completed. So people are extremely excited about it and rightfully so," said Mayor Mike Spence.
Since the washout, the community has endured soaring costs and economic uncertainty as the federal government and an assortment of interested buyers wrangled a deal to buy the Hudson Bay Railway and the Port of Churchill from Denver-based company Omnitrax.
A deal was finalized in late August by Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership, a private-public partnership that includes Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership, Fairfax Financial Holdings and AGT Limited Partnership.
The hi-rails that arrived on Monday were giving the tracks an initial inspection ahead of a more thorough inspection vehicle, expected to come along in the next couple days, Spence said.
"It's huge, it's very significant. As you know we were held hostage, in terms of no rail access this year," he said.
Once the inspection is done, the railway will need a stamp of approval from Transport Canada before commercial and passenger rail traffic can resume. The community plans to hold a big celebration when the first Via Rail train arrives, hopefully sometime in November, Spence said.