Transportation agency puts legal weight behind order to Omnitrax for Churchill rail line repair

The Canadian Transportation Agency has now put a legal exclamation point behind last month’s order to Omnitrax to get going with repairs to the rail line to Churchill.

On Friday, the federal transportation regulator filed an order in Federal Court compelling Omnitrax-Hudson Bay Rail to fix the line to northern Manitoba town.

That follows the transportation’s original order to the Denver-based rail line owner in June.

Based on a complaint filed by the Opposition Manitoba NDP, the agency ruled last month that Omnitrax/Hudson Bay Rail were required to begin repairs to the damaged rail line by July 3.

It has been 410 days since a train last arrived in Churchill. A flood washed out sections of the track in May 2017. 

In a statement to CBC News Friday, a spokesperson for the CTA wrote that the agency’s initial order compelled the company “to complete the repair and resume operation of the railway line as expeditiously as possible.”

The CTA says it was prompted to file the Federal Court order Friday after suggestions Omnitrax has not begun the work.

“We understand there have been concerns expressed by community members that HBR may not be complying with this order,” the spokesperson wrote Friday.

“Responding to these concerns, as per [Section] 33 of the Canada Transportation Act the CTA has filed the order with the Federal Court today, which makes it enforceable as an order of the court.”

Omnitrax has until July 13 to file an appeal of the order with the Federal Court of Appeal.

The CTA has not responded to questions from CBC News about the type of penalties it could use to enforce the order.

A search of the Federal Court of Appeal’s proceedings does not show Hudson Bay Rail or Omnitrax having filed an appeal.

CBC News has requested comment from Omnitrax/HBR.

Negotiations continuing: Carr

Hopes in Churchill for a sale of Omnitrax assets, including the rail line, port facilities and the marine tank farm in Churchill, were dashed last week when Omnitrax issued a statement saying negotiations appeared to have broken down with a consortium of First Nations and northern communities as well as Toronto-based Fairfax Financial Holdings.

A spokesperson for federal Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr says negotiations are continuing.

A written statement from Churchill Mayor Mike Spence suggests there are still efforts behind closed doors to make a deal for the sale of the rail line.

“From Day 1, our community’s top priority has been to see rail line repairs undertaken immediately following the loss of rail service. That remains our priority and we trust all parties are working towards that,” wrote Spence.

Propane arrived in the community by sea this week and gasoline is coming in the next day or so, but the costs of marine shipping are far higher than by rail.

It’s not clear if there are subsidies in place to cover the extra costs of these new shipments.

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