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‘Level playing field’ needed to help short-line railways

Railway Association of Canada repeats call on government for infrastructure money
Genesee & Wyoming Canada photo

The Railway Association of Canada contends short-line railways deserve the same consideration as its competitors in the trucking industry who have access to publicly funded infrastructure.

The Ottawa-based industry group wants Ottawa and Queen’s Park to get on board in helping short-line operators with infrastructure costs.

After the parent company of the Huron Central Railway, Genesee & Wyoming Canada (GWC), announced it would be pulling service between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury at year’s end, the association reacted with “profound discontent” over the lack of capital funding programs available to aid these low-cost rail carriers.

GWC blamed Queen’s Park and Ottawa for not coming through with $43.2-million in subsidies for track maintenance and safety upgrades on the critical 283-kilometre line that serves Essar Steel Algoma and two forest products mills belonging to Domtar and EACOM. 

The Montreal-headquartered freight mover’s application to the National Trade Corridors Fund was recently rejected.

“Despite similar studies and reports recognizing the lack of public funding for local and regional railways – or short-lines – governments have not created programs to help these companies capitalize on growth opportunities and meet evolving rail safety regulatory requirements,” stated RAC acting president Gérald Gauthier, in a news release.

“This type of program might have prevented the discontinuance of Huron Central Railway. Closure of this railway – and potentially other short-lines – puts safety at risk, increases congestion on public roads and harms the environment.”

The association points to a Canada Transportation Act Review report recognizing the importance of Canada’s 50-some short lines that provide service customers not directly served by the major rail carriers. 

The report recommended the creation of a federal-provincial program to support infrastructure investments through contributions, grants or low-cost, long-term financing.

In advocating for rail, RAC said it's filed pre-budget submissions to the Canadian and Ontario government for years asking to “level the playing field” against transportation companies that use taxpayer-funded infrastructure.

The Railway Association of Canada represents more than 50 freight and passenger railway companies that move more than 84 million passengers and $280 billion worth of goods in Canada each year.