Churchill’s port, railway could soon reopen under new ownership

Arctic Gateway Group, a private-public partnership that includes several Manitoba First Nations, has concluded a deal to take over the infrastructure.

By Sarah Rogers, Nunatsiaq News - September 6, 2018
Churchill is Canada’s only major deep-water Arctic port, though it’s been without a connection to the south since the railway flooded last year. A new private-public partnership has reached a deal to take over the port and railway, with support from the federal government. (Nunatsiaq News file photo)

Churchill’s port and railway at may be back in service before the end of the year, following the purchase of this infrastructure by a consortium of private companies and First Nations communities.

The Manitoba town is home to Canada’s only major deep-water Arctic port, though it’s been without a connection to the south since the railway flooded last year.

Its former owners, U.S.-based owner Omnitrax, refused to fix the line, which the company claimed would cost tens of millions of dollars to repair.

After months of negotiations, the federal government announced a new deal had been reached Aug. 31 to take over the railway, the port and Churchill’s marine tank farm.

Arctic Gateway Group is a private-public partnership made up of Fairfax Financial Holdings, AGT Limited Partnership and Missinippi Rail Limited Partnership, which is made up of six Manitoba First Nations.

“Over the last eight months we have been working diligently with our many partners to come together, develop a business plan and satisfy the principles for successful new ownership of the Hudson Bay Railway and Port of Churchill facilities,” said Paul Rivett of Fairfax Holdings, in a news release on Tuesday, Sept. 4.

“The Government of Canada acknowledges the value and importance of our inclusive group and is supportive of our efforts providing a long-term support package through Western Diversification and Export Development Canada to acquire the assets and implement phase one of the project.”

Phase one includes repairs to the rail line and safety upgrades to the port, though the office of the federal minister of international trade has yet to say how much funding it intends to provide for the project.

The work is expected to begin later this week, with the goal of restoring rail service before the winter.

While the news in welcome across the North, Nunavut leaders have said that restoring the rail and port may not produce any benefits for the territory, where most resupply vessels now originate in Montreal-area ports.

At one time, the now defunct Northern Transportation Co. Ltd. supplied Kivalliq communities with fuel and dry cargo using barges based in Churchill. That changed after NTCL lost a Nunavut government fuel contract, pulled out of the Kivalliq dry cargo business, and eventually went bankrupt.

But the Kivalliq Inuit Association is still in discussion with the buying group about coming on as a partner to the project, which could open the doors to the revival of a marine transportation link between Churchill and the Kivalliq region.

A representative of Arctic Gateway Group is set to attend KIA’s upcoming annual general meeting in October to brief its board of directors on the group’s plans, the KIA said.

Missinippi Rail currently holds 50 percent ownership of the Churchill rail and port.