OmniTrax sells Port of Churchill, Hudson Bay rail line to First Nations group

A group of northern Manitoba First Nations is buying the Port of Churchill and Hudson Bay Rail line from OmniTrax.

OmniTrax agrees to work with group for several years to ensure smooth transition

OmniTrax has operated the Port of Churchill and the Hudson Bay rail line since 1997, but a slump in grain shipments has put a strain on the operation and its 80 employees. (Cameron Macintosh/CBC)

A group of northern Manitoba First Nations is buying the Port of Churchill and Hudson Bay rail line from OmniTrax.

The Denver-based company announced on Friday that it has accepted a letter of intent for the purchase of its Manitoba assets.

"It's a group of communities along the line and others that, you know, over the period of time have always believed the railway was theirs. This now can become a reality based on current negotiations," said OmniTrax president Merv Tweed.

He wouldn't reveal the purchase price nor which First Nations are involved.

"They'll make their own statement in their time," Tweed said.

OmniTrax and the First Nations group will now enter a 45-day "due diligence period in which both parties will work together to ensure that a purchase becomes a reality," states a news release from the company, which has also agreed to work with the group for the next several years to ensure a smooth transition.

"We've had a lot of real good discussion, but now it's basically fine print," Tweed told CBC News.

Tweed said he doesn't know whether the sale will require federal or provincial funding or other assistance.

"I can't say that. I don't know. That's part of the discussion we'll undertake over the next 45 days."

OmniTrax has operated the port and rail line since 1997, but a slump in grain shipments has put a strain on the operation.

That prompted the company to announce earlier this month that it was selling the operations.

Sheila North Wilson, grand chief of Manitoba Keewatinowi Okimakanak, which represents northern First Nations in the province, refused to comment on the deal.