The federal government is extending funding for one year so that CN Rail can continue operating the Algoma Central Rail (ACR) passenger line between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.
Federal Transport Minister Lisa Raitt was in Sault Ste. Marie on April 14 to make the announcement.
“Today, I’m pleased to announce the Government of Canada will extend the $2.2-million federal subsidy to CN Rail until March 2015 to ensure its continued operation for a year,” she said. “This is now your time for local stakeholders to come together and figure out a long-term solution that has to happen in order to give you certainty.”
The federal government, which has provided the subsidy since 1977, indicated in its 2013 Economic Action Plan that it would not continue the funding. In February, CN Rail announced its intention to cease operation of the line by March 31, sending stakeholders reeling. CN later extended that deadline to April 29 after lobby efforts by local stakeholders.
Raitt advised the stakeholder group to use the one-year extension to look for long-term solutions to keep the line going, rather than return to government on a year-to-year basis.
“That’s not a way to have a business,” she said. “It’s not a way to grow economic development.”
Sault Ste. Marie Mayor Debbie Amaroso said it would be important in the coming months for stakeholders to buckle down and work together to form a viable plan of action.
“This is now our time to begin to work together to continue to make sure the needs of the region are very clear to CN,” she said. “And we don’t come hat in hand to CN with problems; we have solutions.”
Sault Ste. Marie CEO Joe Fratesi, who chairs the Algoma Passenger Rail Stakeholder Committee, commended Raitt for coming to the Sault to make the announcement in person.
Through a letter-writing campaign, the group had been lobbying to meet with Raitt prior to the April 29 deadline to secure an extension of the funding. In March, the group commissioned BDO Canada to collect data and do an analysis of the economic impact of the train service.
Preliminary results from that study, released last week, indicated that the line “generates significant economic activity which sustains hundreds of jobs and yields millions of dollars in tax revenue for the government,” according to an analysis.
That information was shared with Transport Canada and will be released publicly later this month.