By Steve Lambert
THE CANADIAN PRESS
WINNIPEG- Indigenous leaders say a broken train line that has cut off land access to Churchill in northern Manitoba could be fixed in two months if governments and the railway’s owner would put up the money and hire workers from another rail company.
Chiefs say the Keewatin Railway Company run by First Nations in the province’s northwest has the supplies, manpower and expertise to get repairs done quickly on the rail line to Churchill.
“The option here that we’re providing is to get the railway done and completed by this fall,” Chief Ted Bland, chairman of the Keewatin Tribal Council, said Friday.
The damaged railway, owned by Denver-based Omnitrax, was knocked out by flooding last month. Omnitrax has said it will take six weeks to inspect a remote 280-kilometre section of track and do a report on cost estimates. Repairs are likely to take until spring to complete and outside financial help would be needed, the company has said.
Churchill Mayor Mike Spence said his community of 900 cannot wait until spring. Without train service, people and goods are being flown in at a higher cost.
Some businesses in the tourism-dependent town have already lost summer bookings and have cut back hours and staff. The community is also trying to figure out how to get enough propane to the community, and where to store it, to heat homes though the long winter.
“The real issue here is, let’s get the damn rail line fixed. You fix the rail line, the other issues go away,” Spence said
Premier Brian Pallister has not ruled out financial aid for Omnitrax’s repairs, but is waiting for the report on cost estimates.
Spence and the Keewatin chiefs said the government should instead treat the rail disruption as a disaster. They say address the crisis now, and worry about the price tag later.
“There have been many emergencies that have (happened) in Manitoba … the floods, the (forest) fires,” said Chief Betsy Kennedy of the War Lake First Nation.
“Did they stop and analyze it and say, ‘You know what? Give us an estimate and then we’ll do the repairs?”’