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Port, rail line upgrades boost northern Manitoba’s prosperity

Total investment in revitalization set to reach $150 million this year
An aerial view of the new zinc concentrate storage warehouse at the Port of Churchill.

The Arctic Gateway Group has made significant strides in its revitalization of the Hudson Bay Rail line and Port of Churchill.

“We’ve been working diligently at Arctic Gateway for our third summer now, working on upgrading the rail line,” said Michael Woelcke, CEO of Arctic Gateway. “That’s resulted in improved running times, better performance and better safety on the tracks.”

The rail line suffered from many years of neglect and it needed significant improvement. Significant investments from the federal and provincial governments supported upgrades to the rail line.

By the end of this year, Woelcke said $150 million will have been invested in the whole project.  This year’s investments alone total nearly $60 million. 

The rail upgrades have allowed the Port of Churchill to receive the first shipments of Manitoba critical minerals destined for export markets.

Working with Hudbay Minerals Inc., Arctic Gateway has completed construction of the first new building at the Port of Churchill to receive those shipments.

“We have worked together with a mineral company called HudBay, and they are shipping zinc concentrate from Flin Flon by rail to The Pas, and then from The Pas to Churchill,” Woelcke said. “From Churchill it will be shipped to Europe by ship.”

The new facility is a 12,000-square-foot warehouse that will hold incoming zinc concentrate until there’s a ship load – the equivalent of 20,000 tons.

A single rail car holds 90 tons. The next two months will see the covered gondola cars heading north with 225 cars expected to arrive by August.

To handle the cargo, the port has secured cargo container handlers, skid feeders, expansion hoppers, loaders and transfer conveyers, Arctic Gateway reported May 31.

Arctic Gateway also has what it calls a ‘resupply’ business, receiving goods shipped from Southern Manitoba and transferring them to three ships that take the loads up to Nunavut. 

According to Woelcke, resupply volume increased 161% between 2021 and 2023, with “strong volume” being seen this year, too.

Arctic Gateway will also be looking to rehabilitate and replace several of its bridges that prove to be crucial in travelling goods, such as the rail bridge at Thicket Portage; Mile 179.8 at a cost of roughly $10 million.

In addition, over 125,000 ties will be replaced in 2024 and 800,000 feet of surfacing will be completed.

The bridge reconstruction began in mid May and was set to complete at the end of June. 

“We replaced it section by section without ever stopping operations of any trains,” Woelcke added.

The work has cut travel times between The Pas and Churchill by two and a half hours.

“That means the trains operate that much more quickly, adding to productivity,” Woelcke said, commending the crews that performed the work without interrupting freight traffic.

Arctic Gateway, an Indigenous and community-owned Manitoba company that operates the Port of Churchill, acquired the Hudson Bay Railway in 2018. Construction this season will set the stage for it to focus efforts on port redevelopment.

The work, together with the jobs and training opportunities it brings locals, is good news for northern Manitoba and all stakeholders, said Arctic Gateway chair Mike Spence.

“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,” he said.