The Huron Central Railway has received a $21-million commitment from both federal and provincial governments in order to rehabilitate the 278-kilometre stretch of rail line between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
Stakeholders were on hand in Sault Ste. Marie to make the announcement, which will see both levels of government and Genesee and Wyoming Inc. each contribute $10.5 million with the aim of improving the railway's freight service overall through the $31.5 million project.
“Improving the track will reduce travel time for rail traffic, improving service for much of Northern Ontario. It will also allow for longer and heavier trains, and improve traffic by taking trucks off regional highways,” said Transport Minister Omar Alghabra. “We’ll be able to strengthen the efficiency and reliability of our supply chain.
“Now thanks to these funds, we’re also growing Canada’s economy and creating good, middle-class jobs right here in Sault Ste. Marie.”
Genesee and Wyoming Canada Inc. president Rick McLellan thanked stakeholders for securing the funding commitment to the railway, which serves Algoma Steel, Domtar's pulp and paper plant in Espanola, and EACOM's sawmill operation in Nairn Centre among other industries throughout northeastern Ontario.
“For the past 25 years, the Huron Central Railway has played an integral role in serving our customers and communities in Northern Ontario,” said McLellan. “Our goal has always been to provide quality service that you can rely on, and work together to support the growth of our region’s economics.”
Genesee and Wyoming Canada Inc. had previously announced it would cease Huron Central Railway's operations on Dec. 18, 2020. An extension was agreed upon, expiring June 30, 2021 following negotiations with both federal and provincial governments.
In 2018, the Ontario government provided Genesee and Wyoming Canada Inc. with $980,000 in interim funding in order to sustain Huron Central Railway operations after the company threatened to pull the plug on the rail line earlier that year.
“We had just formed government and there wasn’t a great deal of time to put a more fulsome, thoughtful plan together on the long-term stability of that rail network,” said Ross Romano, Sault Ste. Marie MPP and chief government whip, speaking with SooToday Tuesday.
“What we were able to put together was something we believe will look at a long-term solution so we are not coming back on a routine basis.
“This is something that addresses safety, the amount of crossings, the issues that were ailing this particular company, and this is ensuring that it can be financially viable in the years ahead. This is something that was very specifically looked at in crafting this deal.”
The Huron Central Railway received approximately $33 million from both levels of government in order to carry out extensive repairs to the railway in 2010. When asked about Ottawa’s role in repeatedly funding the railway, Canada’s transport minister said the government sometimes has to play a role in supporting public policy.
“Look, it is important for private businesses that they are sustainable, they are able to maintain the jobs and the work that they deliver. There is, occasionally, a role for government to support a project that has public policy objective, and this particular project has a significant public policy benefit to the region, to businesses around it,” said Alghabra, speaking with reporters following the announcement.
“It’s necessary every once in a while for a government to play a constructive role, but as you said, it’s important that businesses are able to sustain themselves and the jobs that they have.”