Residents of the remote northern Manitoba town of Churchill aren’t the only people who want to see the railway leading to the community repaired and back in operation.
As many as 500 northern Saskatchewan farmers used the railway and the Port of Churchill “on a somewhat regular basis” to export everything from fava beans to wheat and barley before the port was closed down more than a year ago, said Norm Hall, the vice-president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan.
But even if the port was still open, getting crops there would be impossible for producers right now — the rail line leading to the town was severely damaged by heavy spring flooding and there’s no highway leading into Churchill.
“Most of the guys in the northern part of the province have shipped grain through there,” said Hall. “They just want to see it reopened just so it can be used again.”
In the meantime, he said, “they’re having to find other ports.”
Hall estimated that two per cent of the grain produced in Saskatchewan was shipped through the Port of Churchill.
For some farmers, the prospect of sending their product to distant ports like Thunder Bay or Vancouver does not hold as much attraction.
“Churchill was just [965 kilometres] away. Now they’re more like [2,500 kilometres] away from a port,” said Hall.
‘A 2nd place to deliver grain’
Wayne Bacon, a grain farmer in Kinistino, Sask., said he’d like to see the Canadian government take over the rail line, and partner with a First Nations group to relaunch it and find someone to run the port.
This past weekend, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Denver-based Omnitrax — the company that owns both the rail line to Churchill and the now-closed port — has a legal obligation to clean up and repair the tracks damaged by flooding.
Omnitrax says it can’t afford the repairs, which it estimates could cost as much as $60 million.
“I think the two of them are important to agriculture,” Bacon said of the railway and port. “It really helps producers have a second place to deliver grain if you think the tariffs are getting too high.”
Tariffs and port-handling fees are charged by large distributors with ports in…