Churchill chamber president threatens to hold stranded Via rail cars hostage – Manitoba

Churchill’s chamber of commerce president is so fed up with the lack of action fixing the town’s flooded rail line that he says he will do his best to keep Via Rail’s stranded train cars from being removed by barge.

“They’re not going to be moved,” Dave Daley told CBC. “They’re not going to leave here unless they’re moved by rail.”

Via rail has several stranded rail cars in the northern Manitoba town, which has been struggling since flood waters washed out several portions of the Hudson Bay Rail Line in May. Omnitrax has said it can’t afford to fix the line, which could cost as much as $60 million. 

While the province and Omnitrax figure out who will fix the line, Daley said some people in Churchill believe the process of removing the stranded train cars by sea could begin as early as Saturday Sept. 2. 

‘What kind of message does that send to Manitoba and to Canada if the train goes out of here on a barge?’
– Dave Daley, President, Churchill Chamber of Commerce

“So we know that … preparations are being made but nobody is admitting to it.”

Daley said letting the trains be moved out by barge would leave too many unanswered questions.

“What kind of message does that send to Manitoba and to Canada if the train goes out of here on a barge? Does that mean that they’re not going to fix our rail line? 

“I mean it’s going to cost thousands and thousands of dollars to move that train, if not a million dollars to move it out of Churchill, so what indicator is that if Via, which is a federally owned company, takes their train out of here by barge?”

Via Rail ‘evaluating options’

A spokesperson for Via Rail said, in an email, the crown corporation is “currently evaluating options as it relates to this train, based on the evolution of the situation.”

“We are collaborating with the communities and the stakeholders (including Churchill’s Chamber of Commerce) impacted by the situation to find a solution,” the email continued. 

In the meantime, Daly said things in town are becoming more expensive and tourism is suffering.

“The hotels all had a tonne of cancellations of people coming here on the train, the B& Bs and all that’s here, were basically empty all summer, because that’s the kind of clientele that comes on the train.

“To have a really good tourism economy you need access to your community. Affordable access. Not everyone can afford to pay the huge cost of flying in and out of Churchill.”

Via Train stranded in Churchill (Steve Green)

Daley was also critical of the lack of information flowing into the town, both from Omnitrax and the two levels of government, and said he’s worried about the coming winter months. 

“To survive a winter here without having our train up and running and our freight trains up and running is going to be very expensive.”

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