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“Survival mode” for short-line railroader

Huron Central heads to Sault to meet with council
Huron Central Ry

A northeastern Ontario short-line railroader claims it’s operating in “survival mode” according to an upcoming presentation before Sault Ste. Marie city council.

Representatives of the Huron Central Railway are scheduled to appear on April 24, presumably to lobby politicians for infrastructure funding for ongoing track maintenance.

Back in 2010, the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Ottawa and Queen’s Park had to scramble to come up with $33 million to pour into track upgrades on the 278-kilometre Sault-to-Sudbury line. The company had threatened to withdraw service due to a combination of poor track conditions and declining freight volume.

The loss of service would have been devastating some shippers on the line with no other economical way to bring supplies in and move finished product to market.

The staggered government funding for the track maintenance ran out in 2015.

The railway now contends profits from the line are “insufficient” to keep investing in maintenance and rehabilitation.

The company also claims it faces increasing costs in insurance rates and safety compliance requirements.

The Sault-to-Sudbury track is owned by CP Rail. The Huron Central, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Genesee & Wyoming Canada, is contracted to feed freight to the CP main line at Sudbury.

The 44-employee short-line railroad, which is headquartered in Sault Ste. Marie, hauls freight for Essar Steel Algoma in the Sault, the Domtar pulp and paper mill in Espanola, and the EACOM saw mill in Nairn Centre.

These three industrial players comprise 88 per cent of the line’s freight haul and some 12,000 carloads. The company’s presentation to council includes letters of support from Essar, Domtar and EACOM.