Thursday, July 20, 2017

OmniTRAX estimates HBR service restoration could top $60M

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Up to 10 feet of water covered the HBR at some locations. Up to 10 feet of water covered the HBR at some locations. OmniTRAX

OmniTRAX is developing a 60-day plan to return the northern portion of the Hudson Bay Railway (HBR) to service following floods that caused significant damage to the line in May.


HBR has been unable to operate between Amery and Churchill, MB, since May 23 when high water made the track impassable. OmniTRAX, which owns HBR, has been working with AECOM Canada to fully assess the damage and institute an action plan to return the segment to service. However, the shortline company does not sugar coat that the estimated price tag to do so is difficult to justify as the line has not been commercially viable.

Peter Touesnard, ‎chief commercial officer at OmniTRAX, explained that spending between $20 million and $60 million to repair and restore the line is not economically viable, but the company recognizes the line is important to the community.

"We want to be supportive, we recognize the importance [of the line], but we simply do not have the money," said Touesnard. "We're still here and ready to help in every reasonable way we can. We are committed to working through this process with the community and all levels of government."

The 200-year flood event resulted in 31 washouts, which includes nine culverts with washout damage, 13 bridges and 68 culverts in need of major repairs. Additionally, AECOM and OmniTRAX still need to assess three more bridges and piers at another three bridges to determine work that will be needed, as well as geotechnical inspections at several unstable locations.

AECOM and OmniTRAX plan to begin the work on the south end of the line and work north, but point out there are several challenges to the project including no access, no housing for workers and no supplies along the work route. The plan is to release contracts to bid by Aug. 1 with mobilization and construction to occur by the end of August. Work would commence through September and October with OmniTRAX also trying to incorporate suspended annual maintenance into its restoration plans.

The companies anticipate additional challenges securing materials and contractors available to perform the work, citing the limited availability of ballast hoppers during the height of the rail construction season, as well as the inability to secure camp cars to house workers.

OmniTRAX and AECOM say the 60-day plan is ambitious, but doable. Both companies also mention that they want to restore service quickly, but emphasize the need to fix the track properly.