CPR shuts Man. rail line ahead of flood

Canadian Pacific Railway expects its Emerson subdivision, running from Winnipeg to Noyes, Minn. to be closed for at least three weeks as the Red River overflows its banks.

CPR spokesperson Mike Lovecchio said the company officially closed the line to traffic Friday and has begun pulling up track at the Manitoba communities of Emerson and Dominion City to allow those towns to close their ring dikes against the floodwaters.

Heavy equipment will be running over the rail line and right-of-way as the gaps in those towns’ permanent dikes, where roads and rail lines run, are filled in for flood protection. Temporarily pulling up the track will minimize any damage to the line, Lovecchio said.

Emerson, about 100 km south of Winnipeg, is usually Manitoba’s main highway border crossing into the U.S., connecting Winnipeg to Fargo, Omaha and Minneapolis. Dominion City is about 20 km north of Emerson.

“We’re also positioning rail cars with rock ballast on key infrastructure to protect (the lines and rail beds) as the water rises,” Lovecchio said Friday.

The subdivision carries an average of around five mixed-manifest trains per day, Lovecchio said. Where possible, that traffic will now be rerouted west to Moose Jaw, Sask., then south to the U.S. border at Portal, southeast of Estevan, Sask.

CPR was also able to advance some of its grain traffic and other car movements ahead of the approaching flood crests, he said. The railway is already through the bulk of its grain movement season.

The Canadian Wheat Board announced in mid-March that it would co-ordinate additional rail cars into the Red River Valley to clear space in elevators at or near flood-plain towns such as Morris and Letellier, for affected farmers to deliver accepted Series A and B grain.

CPR still expects the flood to have an impact on some freight customers and expects to keep in contact with them in the coming weeks. The company expects the Emerson line to be reopened in about three weeks, but that may happen later depending on the damage to the line, Lovecchio said.

The track will be “completely assessed and inspected” once the floodwaters recede, he said.

The flood forecast Friday from Manitoba’s water stewardship department calls for the Red River to crest at Emerson on Thursday (April 9) and at St. Adolphe, about 10 km south of Winnipeg, on April 15.

“Crests from Emerson to the (inlet of the Red River Floodway around Winnipeg) are expected to occur under open water conditions after the ice has moved out, with levels between those of 2006 and 1979,” the province said Friday.

“If a 25-mm (one-inch) rainstorm were to occur in Manitoba next week on top of snowmelt, levels would rise very close to those of 1979. There is only a small risk of ice jams which could cause levels to temporarily exceed those of 1979.”

From southeastern Manitoba’s perspective, the 1979 flood was similar in magnitude to the spring of 1950. The 1950 flood, which predated construction of the protective Red River Floodway around Winnipeg, flooded over 10,000 city homes and forced the evacuation of about 100,000 people.

But in terms of crest height, 1979 comes in below Manitoba’s 1997 “flood of the century.” The crests in 1979 ranged from 0.3 metres (one foot) below to 1.22 m (four feet) below 1997 peaks at Emerson and St. Adolphe respectively.

Rail lines form part of the protective diking system for some Manitoba communities, but in other spots, Lovecchio said, there’s a possibility that the flood could top the track, as it did last year for about three weeks on CPR track in Wisconsin.

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