Churchill residents frustrated Omnitrax shuts down 'lifeline'

Churchill mayor Mike Spence said Saturday residents are frustrated they have lost all rail service for the foreseeable future.

Mayor worried about short tourist season after Omnitrax shuts down rail line

Churchill mayor Mike Spence said the town's residents are frustrated after Omnitrax shut down rail service due to problems caused by permafrost. (CBC)

Churchill mayor Mike Spence said Saturday residents are frustrated they have lost all rail service for the foreseeable future. 

The town of Churchill said Omnitrax told officials Friday rail service between Gillam and Churchill has been suspended until further notice, blaming unsafe track conditions on problems caused by severe permafrost.

It comes on the heels of a freight derailment earlier this month.

"It is a lifeline," Spence said. "Is this something new to us? No. Does this happen? It does happen. We're just hoping it gets rectified quick. It's frustrating." 

Spence said there was a freight train bringing essentials like groceries into the town on Thursday, but he said "that's it' until the track is brought back up to speed. 

He said the cost of goods will likely rise because now they'll have to be flown in from Thompson. 

Spence said the last passenger train was May 30. 

"People are disappointed and frustrated," he said. "But the thing is, people want this repaired as quickly as possible. We all do."

Via also waiting for track repairs

Via Rail spokesperson Mylene Belanger said it, too, is waiting for Omnitrax to see that the problems are fixed. 

"We are committed to resuming our service and looking forward to resuming service when the track is deemed safe for passenger service," she told CBC Saturday. 

Belanger said Via will conduct another inspection after repairs, too.

"Under no circumstance will Via compromise the safety of passengers and staff," she said.

She added Via has been in communication with customers travelling to or from Churchill. They can get a refund or book another date. But no alternate transportation is offered between Gillam and Churchill, she said. 

Churchill's mayor is also worried about the impact on the town's short tourist season. 

"Once we get [the track] up and running, then we can carry on with what we do best: providing an opportunity to prosper. And prospering, part of that actually is the vital link of tourism as an international destination."

Omnitrax has not yet responded to CBC's request for comment.