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End of the line (again) for Huron Central Railway?

MPP said short-line rail carrier threatens to drop service if government track maintenance funding doesn’t arrive
Huron Central Railway
Huron Central Railway locomotive at the McKerrow siding.

Algoma-Manitoulin NDP MPP Michael Mantha said the Huron Central Railway, a short-line hauler running between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, could cease operations shortly if federal and provincial government funding for ongoing track upgrades isn’t secured by this week.

That result could be logistically devastating to Essar Steel Algoma in the Sault, the Domtar paper mill in Espanola, and the EACOM sawmill in Nairn Centre, the three biggest industrial customers along that line.

Those companies account for 88 per cent of the line traffic, amounting to 12,000 carloads annually.

“The Liberal government is forcing the Huron Central to cease operations, putting railway employees out of work and threatening thousands of steelworker jobs in the North,” said Mantha in an Oct. 31 news release.  “New Democrats will fight to prevent this from happening.”

The 44-employee rail carrier’s ask of federal and provincial funders is a combined $46 million over five years for the 278-kilometre line.

In the news release, Mantha said the Wynne government needs to stand up and save jobs in the Sault and Algoma district. He said Huron Central Railway executives have repeatedly warned that they will cease to operate the line if they do not receive the funding.

New Democrats announced in May they would contribute the $4 million over five years to maintain Huron Central’s infrastructure should they form the next government in 2018.

Last April, Louis Gravel, president of Genesee-Wyoming Canada – the Huron Central’s parent company – appeared before Sault Ste. Marie city council asking for the municipality’s support in approaching the federal and provincial government for funding.

It’s the second time in less than a decade, the railway appealed for government support for track maintenance.

Gravel claimed the railway was operating in “survival mode” with freight revenue generated from the line only covers operating expenses.

Millions are needed for federally mandated safety upgrades like new rail crossing infrastructure.

The Sault-to-Sudbury track is owned by CP Rail. Genesee & Wyoming Canada is contracted to feed regional freight to CP’s main line at Sudbury.

CP doesn't contribute money to maintain these feeder lines and there are no government programs in place to provide infrastructure dollars to short-line railroads.

In 2009, the Algoma district came close to losing the line when the Huron Central threatened to drop service due to the track’s general state of disrepair and declining tonnage.

The City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa and Queen’s Park rallied to come up with a $33-million package earmarked for track bed improvements such as new ballast, cross ties, rail replacement, and bridge upgrades.

The railway said last spring that that funding pool has since dried up. Officials at Genesee & Wyoming Canada were not immediately available for comment.