Churchill in 'a desperate situation,' resident says, 1 month into rail service suspension

After a tumultuous week in the news but no clear answers for residents, a Churchill woman says her community is desperate.

Northern Manitoba community became fly-in only after rail service halted on May 23 due to flooding

Omnitrax officials notified the Manitoba government on Friday that damage to the lines might not be completely repaired until this winter or next spring. (Omnitrax)

After a tumultuous week in the news but no clear answers for residents, a Churchill woman says her community is desperate.

"Everything comes from the train, so we kind of lost everything, in a sense," Amanda Proulx said. The 23-year-old lives and works in the northern Manitoba community about 1,000 kilometres north of Winnipeg.
Amanda Proulx, 23, says her community is in a desperate situation, but she's happy to see residents come together to help each other. (Submitted by Amanda Proulx)

"We're just picking up pieces right now trying to figure out what to do, how we can get things sent in, how we can make it not break everyone's bank that's already a little cracked."

It has been a month since the last train delivered goods, including groceries, building materials and fuel to the town of roughly 900 people.

The Hudson Bay Railway — the only way to access the community by land — was damaged by flooding in late May. The tracks were washed out in 24 places in the 300-kilometre stretch between Gillam, Man., and Churchill.

Omnitrax, the Denver-based company that owns the rail line, has said repairs might not be finished until as late as next spring, with the damage assessment alone set to take about six weeks to complete. In the meantime, essential goods are being shipped by air — which is driving up prices.

An ongoing back-and-forth between local leaders, Omnitrax and governments both provincial and federal has dominated news cycles this week, but without resolution.

"It's hard to say that we're in a desperate situation, but we're in a desperate situation," Proulx said.

Proulx said it's hard to watch her community struggle, but nice to see the little ways it comes together. Residents who have to fly to Winnipeg are trying to help others by filling their suitcases full of supplies.

"Everyone's just trying to make it a little easier for everybody else. But I only see that happening in the community," she said.

Damage assessment to take weeks

Premier Brian Pallister said earlier this month the provincial government will hold off on making specific commitments until it has a better sense of the damage.

Mayor Mike Spence and local businesses have called on both levels of government to contribute funding to help the community and asked the federal government to include Churchill in Nutrition North, a food subsidy program for isolated communities.

In a statement to CBC News last week, a spokesperson with Northern Affairs said the federal department is exploring whether the town is eligible, and said the department will "continue to monitor the situation closely."

​Proulx said she wants to see funding to get repairs started sooner.

"Even just financial help," she said.

"I think we can get the manpower together, it's just — everyone is saying that it's too expensive, it's too expensive. And I don't think anyone thinks of it from our point of view, that everything's already too expensive for us. 

"We've been dealing with that already."

With files from Erin Brohman