Food running out, town declares emergency
Source: Winnipeg Free Press
Published: June 11th 2008

Pukatawagan has declared a state of emergency as supplies of food and other basic necessities dwindle due to a burnt-out railway bridge.

More than 2,600 people in the northwestern Manitoba town and region are facing shortages of food, baby products, and other essentials, said Shirley Castel, chief of the Mathias Colomb Cree Nation.

The rail line normally used to take these goods 200 km from The Pas to Pukatawagan was cut off almost three weeks ago when a forest fire destroyed a wooden railway bridge between Sherridon and Cranberry Portage.

Until the track repairs are done, food stores in Pukatawagan have been flying in food and supplies by plane. And they have increased prices to cover the higher freight costs.

Food is short, and gasoline is being rationed. "Fuel is only being allowed for emergency vehicles, and none for community use," Castel said.

According to Castel, compounding the situation is a disagreement between the partners who manage the critical transport route to Pukatawagan.

Keewatin Railway Co., a firm owned by a First Nations consortium, owns and maintains the track, but can't start repairs until partner Hudson Bay Railway Co. permits a work train to move to the site of the damage, Castel said.

"The bridge is burnt," said Tom McCahill, general manager for KRC, explaining that about 80 feet of track across a small creek need rebuilding. The site will be examined by an engineering firm to estimate the cost of rebuilding the bridge only when the firm can get to the location, McCahill said.

In the meantime, KRC can patch the track temporarily, laying lines across steel culvert and earth fill, he said, estimating it will take a couple of days.

"They (KRC) are ready to repair the bridge," Castel said, but they still need HBR's work train to come in from The Pas to the site. HBR is not allowing any trains to run on the line until an investigation into the fire is completed, she added.

"The DNR (Department of Natural Resources) are saying the engine caused the fire," said Castel.

"Because of that now HBR is wanting us to sign a liability release with them, not holding them responsible for any damages that have occurred and will occur if any occur in the future. I can't see us signing that, because it's not our engine, we're not liable for it."

"They have us in a corner here," Castel said. "We're being forced to be without services. It's been almost three weeks here we've been without a train."