Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN) is now the only First Nation in Ontario to have acquired a Rail Operating Certificate (ROC) from Transport Canada, placing it one step closer to reviving passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.
Missanabie Cree First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier says that the certificate – which took the First Nation roughly three months to obtain – is the federal government’s show of confidence in the First Nation’s ability to operate its proposed Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban [Cree for ‘bear train’] rail project.
“We’ve been talking about submitting it for over two years, but we had to make sure that we had everything in place in order to do that,” Gauthier said.
The next step for the MCFN is to have a conversation with CN regarding a conditional access agreement, as CN owns the line along which the ACR travels.
“With those two things in hand, I think that we look at having a renewed discussion in regards to the funding for that rail service,” Gauthier said.
Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban, Gauthier says, would cost roughly $2 million per year in order to operate, not including the initial startup costs.
“All rail service in Canada is subsidized in one way or another, so I think there should be a commitment by Transport Canada to fund this service,” Gauthier said. “That’s a renewed discussion once we have all our ducks in a row and we’ve done our due diligence.”
The passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst was shuttered by the Algoma Central Railway in 2015, which MCFN says has accounted for a loss of somewhere between $38 and $48 million in economic development for the region.
“For a $2-million-a-year investment, it makes sense to get this train back up and running again,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier says that much of the progress that MCFN has made in terms of trying to revive rail service along the former Algoma Central Railway corridor wouldn’t have been possible without the advocacy efforts of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) and its co-chair, Linda Savory-Gordon.
“Without her, I don’t think we would’ve been able to get as far as we have,” Gauthier said.
Gauthier said the Missanabie Cree is just the third First Nation in all of Canada to receive a Rail Operating Certificate.