THE Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), Transport Canada (TC) and the government of Quebec have announced a partnership to provide an investment package for Tshiuetin Rail to modernise the first Indigenous owned and operated railway in Canada.

Tshiuetin, which means North Wind, has owned and operated a 217km regional railway between Schefferville and Emeril since December 2005. It operates a 574km passenger rail service on the line and another section owned by Quebec North Shore and Labrador Railway between Schefferville and Sept-Iles.

CIB will invest $C 50m ($US 40m) in the form of a long-term, fully repayable loan while the government of Quebec will invest $C 5m, repayable over the next two years. Transport Canada, which has supported Tshiuetin since 2005, has renewed its commitment to the company for the next three years under its Remote Passenger Rail Program, increasing its total annual subsidies of at least $C 12m per year for operating and capital expenditures.

The modernisation project will contribute to the economic growth of communities in the Northeastern Quebec and Western Labrador railway corridor. The freight and passenger railway is the only readily accessible land transport connection between Schefferville and Sept-Îles for three First Nations - the Innu Takuaikan Uashat Mak Mani-Utenam, the Innu Nation of Matimekush-Lac John, and the Naskapi Nation of Kawawachikamach.

The partnership includes significant track structure improvements, the upgrade of an existing and construction of a new worker lodging camp, as well as the construction of a new station. The project also involves the acquisition of a new fuel-efficient locomotive and new passenger coaches, which will enhance passenger comfort.

The new trains will be equipped with communication technology, which will provide an improved control system, allow instructions to be transmitted directly to the operations centre. It will also provide onboard Wi-Fi.

Tshiuetin says modernised freight services will increase the capacity and efficiency of goods transport, creating new business opportunities. The project will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions through shorter travel times and more fuel-efficient trains.

This is the first investment under the CIB’s Indigenous Community Infrastructure Initiative (ICII), through which the bank is targeting to invest $C 1bn in infrastructure projects developed in partnership with and for the benefit of First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities. The project also represents the CIB’s first investment in Newfoundland and Labrador.

“Ever since its construction, the railway now operated by Tshiuetin has been the lifeline for the northern communities it serves,” says Tshiuetin CEO, Ms Tanis Peterson. “Almost everything is transported by rail, whether it is food, fuel, building supplies, vehicles, household supplies, equipment, and medication. When there are issues with the track and freight and passenger service is disrupted, emergency measures are put in place and the region’s isolation becomes immediately obvious and the population’s anxiety is palpable.

“Fortunately, such events are very rare, but they do help remind everyone how essential the service is and how everyone generally takes it for granted.”