Deal reached to buy Churchill rail line

A deal has been reached to restart the Churchill rail line – and the City of Flin Flon has played a role.

After a year of ill-fated deals, an agreement in principle to purchase the railway was made on May 30.

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The deal will see the line’s current owners, Colorado-based Omnitrax, sell the line and additional assets to two northern Manitoba-based groups, Missinippi Rail and One North. The groups will also partner with Toronto-based holding company Fairfax Financial Holdings and AGT Foods and Ingredients.

It is a crucial step to reopening the line, which was damaged due to flooding and heavy rain in May 2017. After the line was reported damaged, Omnitrax refused to pay for repairs to the line, shutting down Churchill’s only land link for transportation and goods.

One North is led by several of northern leaders, including Opaskwayak Cree Nation chief Christian Sinclair, Churchill mayor Mike Spence and Betsy Kennedy, chief of War Lake First Nation. Each of the group’s co-chairs represent communities located on the rail line.

The second northern group behind the purchase, Missinippi Rail, has been involved in discussions to purchase the line since 2016. The group is led by interests representing Mathias Colomb First Nation.

In early May,  One North/Missinippi Rail offered ownership shares to several northern communities. The City of Flin Flon approved buying three shares in One North, joining dozens of communities in northern Manitoba and Nunavut that have been impacted by the closure of the line.

The price was a major selling point – the city spent only three dollars for all three shares. For the cost of two small coffees, Flin Flon assisted the group in incorporating, paving the way for a deal to be reached.

“There’s not much of a financial contribution. It’s more for us to assist them,” said Glenna Daschuk, city administrator for the City of Flin Flon.

“It’s not a huge financial impact for us. It’s three dollars. You can’t get anything for three dollars anymore.”

It was the first time since Flin Flon’s incorporation as a community in 1933 that the city has signed an agreement with a First Nations-led group. Daschuk said the city is open to assisting the group further in the future.

“From here out, we’re supporting them. We’ll do whatever it’s going to take to assist them in getting this reopened and operating again,” said Daschuk.

The deal, including the fact that northern-based groups are leading efforts to purchase the line, has been lauded as a key next step for northern Manitoba growth.

“It gives us hope again. The fact that they’ve entered into this agreement is extremely positive for northern Manitoba. We just hope that they are able to continue through to the end of what’s needed in order to keep northern Manitoba economically viable. This is a huge part of it,” said Daschuk.

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