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U.S. short-line rail operator to close acquisition of former Algoma Central Railway this week

Watco to launch freight service on Feb. 1

The 123-year history of Algoma Central Railway (ACR) is expected to enter a new chapter. 

The long-anticipated sale of 250 miles of former ACR track between Sault Ste. Marie and Oba, Ont. to U.S. short-line operator Watco is expected to close before the end of January.

"I've had multiple conversations with Watco since the announcement that the transaction with CN is closing," Travis Anderson, the city's director of tourism and community development, told last week's meeting of the Tourism Sault Ste. Marie board.

"The latest information I have is the acquisition will officially close on Jan. 28," Anderson announced. "At that point, they're anticipating they will begin operation of a freight rail on Feb. 1."

"They are working to actively plan the 2022 tour season."

"There's not much by way of update with respect to the tour train at this point. We're continuing to have regular touch points with them," Anderson said. "I'm anticipating more information from them likely in March."

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That means the executive calling the shots on the old ACR will be Dan Smith, chief executive officer of Kansas-based Watco Companies LLC and a former pitcher for Montreal Expos and Boston Red Sox.

"Watco is one of the largest short-line railroad holding companies in the U.S. with more than 5,000 miles of track," declares a company statement.

"Watco is a leading service and logistics company providing transportation, mechanical repairs and maintenance, material handling and warehousing, and logistics solutions for customers throughout North America and Australia."

Initially drafted by Texas Rangers in the early 1990s, Smith played in the major leagues from 1999 to 2003. He's best known as the pitcher who allowed Tony Gwynn's 3,000th hit on Aug. 6, 1999 in Montreal.

"Dan’s career with Watco started in 2009 with him spearheading the purchase of Greens Port Industrial Terminals, the largest multi-tenanted industrial park on the Gulf Coast," said his corporate biography.

"Under his leadership, Watco has achieved more than $1 billion of annual revenue through strategic planning and acquisitions. His vision and operational direction have been the driving force behind the successful integration of more than 150 new business locations since 2015."

"As for the team culture that Watco is known for, it’s only natural that Dan helps inspire it. He’s drawing on 12 years as a pitcher with five Major League Baseball organizations," his biography states.

In Sault Ste. Marie, Watco is expected to do business as Agawa Canyon Railroad, merging the previous  brands: Algoma Central Railway and Agawa Canyon Tour train.

Agawa Canyon Railroad was granted a Transport Canada operating certificate last November to haul freight.