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Hudbay-Churchill ore train deal begins, rail line to see summer improvements

Hudbay has started sending zinc concentrate to Churchill for transport on the open sea, with the first rail cars of material heading out on Hudson Bay later this summer.

Hudbay has started sending zinc concentrate to Churchill for transport on the open sea, with the first rail cars of material heading out on Hudson Bay later this summer.

The first gondola rail cars filled with concentrate from Hudbay’s Lalor mine have hit the rails, en route to Churchill, Manitoba’s sole ocean port. Hundreds of cars’ worth of material will arrive in Churchill later this summer, with the material sent from Lalor to Flin Flon by truck, then being loaded on rail cars and sent to Churchill through the Hudson Bay Railway. Hudbay officials ballpark the number of cars’ worth of material as “roughly 200”, while the railway’s operator predicts around 225 train cars’ worth will head to Churchill by the time the job ends.

“As foreseen, we are targeting the shipment of roughly 200 freight cars over the coming months, aiming to fill a shipload by the end of August,” reads a statement from a Hudbay spokesperson.

Arctic Gateway Group (AGG) announced May 31 that it had finished a new building at the Port of Churchill to store Hudbay concentrate, a covered warehouse at the port facility. The rail cars are expected to arrive in Churchill later this month, then be sent out on a ship later in the summer. Workers at the Port, which is typically open for shipping from mid-summer until mid-to-late fall, were called back to work early to help erect the building.

“Our partnership with AGG for shipping zinc concentrate from the Lalor Mine in Snow Lake to the AGG terminal in Churchill is progressing as expected. Shipping commenced on schedule in May with 29 gondola rail cars dispatched and unloading will begin in June,” said the Hudbay spokesperson.

“New equipment for the port has been secured including cargo container handlers, skid feeders, expansion hoppers, loaders and transfer conveyors and the material is being stored in the new enclosed building. In preparation, port employees were called back to work early to work alongside the Manitoba company that built the new domed building,” reads an announcement from AGG made May 31.

With a place to store the zinc once it arrives in Churchill, AGG, the company that maintains the line, has started a line renewal campaign, including replacing over 125,000 rail ties, resurfacing hundreds of kilometres of track and fixing up crossings, bridges and turnout along the way. According to the company, one of the bridges needing repairs, located near Thicket Portage, will be repaired in phases, which would allow the rail line to be used during construction.

“2024 will be a very active and busy year for AGG. A second freight train per week is being added to expand services to our customers,” said AGG chairperson Michael Spence. Spence is also the mayor of Churchill - according to AGG’s website, former Flin Flon mayor Cal Huntley also serves as the group’s director.

“Providing training and good jobs in the north means we can continue to play a critical role, not only in economic development and Indigenous reconciliation but also in advancing Canada’s Arctic sovereignty.”

AGG purchased the rail line in 2018 after its previous owner left the line unused for more than 18 months after it was damaged in a flood, leaving the community of Churchill cut off from land transport. In 2022, the Manitoba government vowed to spend up to $73.8 million over two years to help upgrade the railway - the federal government already provided almost $160 million in funding to help repair and operate the railway, with commitments to add almost $60 million more in the future.

The port is advertised as a quicker way for shipments from western Canada, including agricultural and industrial shipments, to get to open water and be shipped abroad. Requests have been made from western Canadian policy analysts and researchers to use the railway as part of a northern transport corridor that might potentially see oil or gas shipments being made from western provinces to Churchill through northern Manitoba.

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