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Port of Churchill Rail Line Getting Repairs

Grain shipping out of the Port of Churchill in northern Manitoba will be shut down for an extended period to facilitate much-needed repairs on the rail line that serves the port.

Sheldon Affleck, chief executive officer of the Arctic Gateway Group (AGG) – which owns and operates the port as well as the rail line – said it was decided in April to proceed with an extensive rehabilitation of the 627-mile line that extends from The Pas in the south to the Port of Churchill in the north. Work only began in August after the federal government announced it was providing $40 million for the project, which will largely focus on the stretch between Gillam and Churchill. It will take up to two years to complete the work.

Passenger and freight service along the rail line have continued, albeit with a number delays due to the work.

“It would have been very difficult to run grain trains at the same time,” Affleck said, stressing the need for the upgrades. “If you don’t bite the bullet and do your permanent solutions to the track, it’s like a pot-holey road that’s always under construction and you never get anything productive done.”

However, the work is being done at an opportune time. The severe drought that slashed Prairie production this year meant the port would not have done much, if any, grain shipping in 2022 anyway. Quorum Corporation, which tracks grain movement by rail in Canada, said only 700 tonnes of grain are presently in the Churchill terminal. That compares to a year ago when there was 26,100 tonnes.

The Hudson Bay Route Association website shows that 137,000 tonnes of grain was shipped out of Churchill in 2019.

For much of its existence, the port was almost entirely reliant on grain from the now-defunct Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) for its viability.

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