Company fixing Churchill rail line says repairs will be complete in 60 days
Repairs on the Hudson Bay Railway set to begin Sept. 8
Repairs to the Churchill rail line will be complete in 60 days, according to one of two companies doing the work.
"We have been mobilizing pretty much ever since Friday," said Marc Breault, president and founder of Paradox Access Solutions, an Edmonton-based company hired to repair the railway tracks.
The repairs are set to begin Sept. 8. Breault says his company's chief engineer is already in Gillam, Man., assessing the situation. The goal is to fix the tracks in under two months so that winter weather conditions don't delay the project, he said.
"It's very doable, the only challenge is weather. We're late in the season and weather could be a hindrance to completing that project, all depending on how much into October do we get ... we're looking at every angle to attack this as aggressively as possible," said Breault.
"At the end of the day, our goal is to get the train tracks running again, so that the remote communities can get back to just living a normal life and not worrying about high costs of food and necessities."
Churchill, a community of roughly 1,000 people and Canada's only deep-water Arctic port, has been without a land route since the railway flooded in May 2017. For the past 19 months, the only way in or out of the remote northern Manitoba community has been by air or ship.
That's driven up the cost of fuel and food and left a number of people stranded in the town.
On Friday, the federal government announced the railway and the Port of Churchill have been purchased from Denver-based Omnitrax Inc. by Arctic Gateway Group, a private-public partnership that includes Missinippi Rail, Fairfax Financial Holdings and AGT Food and Ingredients.
Accommodations another challenge
Most of the workers who will repair the tracks are from Manitoba, but for a specialized team of eight who are coming from Edmonton. Breault says it's been a challenge finding accommodations to hold the more than 40 people who will travel to Manitoba's north to do the job.
"It's such a remote area in Manitoba that there's not a lot of ability to get our people up there immediately. So we are making arrangements to get a camp in place so our people can arrive and do their specialty," said Breault.
Paradox Access Solutions specializes in ground stabilization and providing access to remote locations. It has worked on a number of pipeline, oil and gas, and roadway projects across Canada. In 2016, it was one of the first companies on the ground to assist during the Fort McMurray, Alta., wildfires.
"Within eight days, we had 40 kilometres of temporary access roads," said Breault. "We're sort of the guys that nobody really thinks about ... creating access so that everyone else can do their jobs."
In Churchill, Breault says his company will stabilize the ground under the railway, and another company — which wants to remain anonymous — will come in and repair the tracks.
He says his company will use Tough Cell technology for the repairs — a geocell technology invented in the 1970s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to strengthen unpaved roads in order to hold heavy military vehicles.
"This is state-of-the-art technology that really has never been tried before in Canada. It's been utilized in the world, but not in Canada," said Breault.
Problems with rail line before the washout
Breault says his company was first contacted about repairing the rail line in 2016, a year before the tracks were washed out. At the time, Omnitrax still owned the rail line and was dealing with issues caused by permafrost and soft spots under sections of the track.
"Basically, they had to reduce the speed of tracks where they were having problems, so they were as slow as 10 kilometres an hour in sections ... but at least things were still moving," said Breault. "They were trying to find a solution so that they could continue to haul grain up there and also Via Rail could transport."
Breault says the tracks will need to be upgraded next year so that they can move people and products quickly and efficiently. Right now, his main concern is getting the rail line repaired to the condition it was in before the washout, so that the people of Churchill and surrounding communities can get back to normal life.