Sault Ste. Marie is dusting off an old game plan to save another railroad.
Five years after the municipality successfully lobbied for funds to keep the Huron Central Railway running, city council plans to lobby Ottawa for an extension of a subsidy to keep passenger service alive on the Canadian National Railway (CN) line north to Hearst.
On Feb. 4, city council approved a recommendation from chief administrative officer Joe Fratesi to ask Transport Canada for a one-year extension of the subsidy and that CN agree to operate the service. In the meantime, a working committee of impacted stakeholders will be formed to figure out what to do. A similar group was struck in 2009 to deal with the Huron Central closure.
CN advised the mayors of Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst on Jan. 24 that the federal government was no longer providing the company with a $2.2 million subsidy to keep passenger service running on the Algoma Central branch line and said that it was terminating service on April 1.
In his report to council, Fratesi said with CN’s sudden cancellation of the Snow Train last fall, there is good reason to be concerned about the future of the Agawa Canyon tour train and freight operations on that line.
“Information provided to the city has indicated that there has already been a recent and substantial hike in freight rates which are charged to local industries which use this line to ship and receive goods.”
Fratesi said the Algoma Central line is a “vital transportation link” to industries and businesses.
“As well, this line has provided for Sault Ste. Marie an opportunity to be part of the proposed Ring of Fire development, with the transportation of either raw or processed material to/from that development.”
With the city’s long-term plan to operate a commercial port, Fratesi said it’s important to keep rail lines east and north of the city available for the shipment of goods.
The Sault Ste. Marie Chamber of Commerce is throwing its support behind the city’s efforts.
“While it is regrettable that the termination of the northern rail service was announced without prior consultation, the chamber believes that solutions can be found,” said chamber president Mark Barsanti in a letter to council.