Train to Pukatawagan First Nation leaves as scheduled, but many still stranded in The Pas

Early this afternoon, the train from The Pas to Pukatawagan First Nation left the station, but not everyone who was stranded in The Pas was able to get on board.

The train seats 40 people, and shortly after the station opened all the seats sold out, leaving many people — some who have been waiting to board since before Monday — out of luck. 

Rebecca Linklater and her 10-year-old daughter planned to take Monday’s train before it was cancelled. They’re now staying in The Pas tonight, and will be there until they can either get a flight out or get tickets for the train this coming Monday, which are sold on a first-come first-served basis.

Linklater said she’s concerned about the cost of staying in The Pas, and said she had to spend all the money she saved for the trip.

“I put emergency money aside [in case the train was delayed], but I know not everyone can do that,” she said.

On Thursday morning, the train station was packed with people and their belongings as they waited to try and purchase train tickets. (Submitted by Seacell Bighetty)

Linklater said she considers herself lucky that she has a car in The Pas. She’s able to travel to and from the train station and airport every day to try and secure a way home for herself and her daughter, but because there’s no all-weather route to Pukatawagan First Nation, she’s unable to drive herself home.

“I feel for the other people who don’t have cars,” she said.

Linklater said Pukatawagan leadership is paying for a hotel room tonight for herself and her daughter, but she’s unsure what will happen if she doesn’t get a flight out tomorrow and says she might have to sleep in her car if she can’t find accommodation.

Trying to leave for 3 weeks

Marvin Colomb said he and his 3 daughters, aged 10, six and two, have been trying to get out of The Pas for three weeks.

“This is outright stupid that our people have to suffer like this, at this day and age,” Colomb said, “I’m totally frustrated. That’s what it is, frustration.” 

Marvin Colomb and other members of Pukatawagan First Nation are stranded in The Pas until they can get a ticket for the train. (Submitted by Seacell Bighetty)

Beverly Caribou said she’s been stuck in The Pas for a month, and has since run out of money for accommodations and food. She’s been panhandling to get money to feed herself. 

Caribou said she actually has a plane ticket waiting for her at the airport, but she doesn’t have the money to get there.

“I don’t have the money to get to the airport, [but] I want to go home,” she said.

Beverly Caribou said she has a plane ticket back to Pukatawagan, but no money to get herself to the airport. (Submitted by Seacell Bighetty)

Linklater said Pukatawagan councillors have been on the ground in The Pas and working with people from the First Nation to find them accommodations and secure a way home, but Linklater said right now there’s a lot of hearsay going around without concrete information.

“I’m just waiting to find out what’s going to happen,” she said.

Calls for all-weather road

Linklater wants the train to be updated, not only to accommodate more passengers but to also address issues with aging equipment. She said in the past, she was told by Keewatin Railway Company that the train was cancelled because of a multitude of reasons which include engine problems and bathroom and heating issues.

She said the addition of an all-weather road, and not just a winter road, would also help people travel to and from the community, which is located 210 km north of The Pas and 819 km northwest of Winnipeg.

“We need an all-weather road,” she said.

Monday’s cancellation was due to a lack of staff to run the train, according to Michael Woelcke, CEO of Arctic Gateway, which supplies the train’s conductors and engineers. 

As of Thursday morning, Woelcke said the railway was able to get the staff it needed to run the route as scheduled.

“The train is ready to go, set up and going. The crew is there,” he said.

Arctic Gateway Group also posted an apology to the affected passengers on Facebook, saying it’s working with KRC to improve service to all the communities it serves. 

KRC confirmed the train was full and left the station, but would not provide additional comment. In a previous interview, CEO Anthony Mayham said refurbished passenger cars and locomotives are scheduled to be delivered in the spring and fall of next year.

CBC reached out to Pukatawagan First Nation Chief Gordy Bear, but has not yet received a response.

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