Port owner and operator OmniTrax announced on 26 July that it would be closing the Port of Churchill – Canada’s only rail-accessible deep-sea Arctic port – and accompanying Hudson Bay Railway.
The port operates from late July to mid-November, shipping around 514,000 tonnes/year of grain and oilseeds. It has a storage capacity of 140,000 tonnes, wheat and durum cleaning capabilities of 660 tonnes/hour, and canola cleaning of 250 tonnes/hour.
CBC News said the unexpected closure had come as a shock to residents, communities along the 1,300km Hudson Bay Railway and farmers in northern Saskatchewan and northwestern Manitoba.
The port was sold by government corporation Ports Canada to Denver-based OmniTrax in 1997. In the same year, Canadian National Railway sold the Hudson Bay Railway to OmniTrax.
OmniTrax received a one-year subsidy deal worth around C$800,000 to C$1M (US$611M-$673M) in 2015 and Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister said the company was trying to pry more cash out of the province through the closure, CBC News reported.
According to Real Agriculture, while there has been talk of climate change favouring Arctic ports in the long term, Churchill Port has some challenges it needs to overcome including “the economics of a short ice-free shipping season, the risk and maintenance issues with having a rail line built on permafrost, small volume capacity on the rail line and through the port, the need for surge capacity, and insurance costs for bringing boats into Hudson Bay”.
Real Agriculture said while grain movement at the pot had traditionally exceeded 400,000 tonnes, the 2015 shipping season was nowhere close to that level, with exports dropping to just under 188,000 tonnes.
Canada’s largest agribusiness, Richardson International, said on its website that it had shipped grains and oilseeds such as peas and canola through Churchill for decades but Real Agriculture said it did not have any grain booked for Churchill this year.