Members of the ACR Passenger Service Stakeholders Working Group entered into formal discussions with Transport Canada yesterday. During a teleconference organized by Sault MP Bryan Hayes and Minister Lisa Raitt, senior ministry officials requested information from the Working Group to enable the Federal Government to do its due diligence on the stakeholder proposal for the continued operation of the Algoma passenger rail service.
“We are encouraged by the detailed request for information from Transport Canada, and we see this as a very positive step in finding a solution.” said Joe Fratesi, Chair of the Working Group and CAO for the City of Sault Ste. Marie. “I particularly want to thank our MP, Bryan Hayes, and the Honourable Lisa Raitt for undertaking the arrangements for this meeting and having their officials focus on our proposal. We also appreciate the tireless efforts of other individuals who have served as solid advocates throughout this process.”
On December 19, the Working Group sent a funding proposal to Transport Canada for the continued operation of the Sault-to-Hearst rail service. The request, which would cost the Federal Government considerably less than its financial support of the service in recent years, included information from a third-party rail company that’s expected to take over the operation later this year.
Formed in early-2014 after Transport Canada announced its intention to cut its annual investment in the ACR passenger service, the Working Group represents a larger committee of concerned regional stakeholders, including the City of Sault Ste. Marie, Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, Municipality of Wawa, Town of Hearst, First Nations, Township of Dubreuilville, Tourism Sault Ste. Marie, Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association, Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, and land and cottage owners serviced by the ACR line.
Transport Canada later announced a one-year funding extension into the rail service, which is currently scheduled to expire March 31, 2015. The extension has allowed the Working Group and CN to come up with a solution, and the two are now in negotiations with a third-party rail operator that has detailed plans to increase revenue and ridership by diversifying the types of tourism products and services available to a variety of passengers. The company, whose name won’t be released until its agreement with CN is concluded, has a business plan that calls for an end to government funding after five years.
The Working Group is now conferring with all stakeholders, including CN and the selected third-party operator, to ensure that the information requested by Transport Canada is made available as soon as possible. With the March 31 deadline fast approaching, all parties understand that time is of the essence.
Meanwhile, according to an economic impact assessment from BDO Canada in 2014, the ACR passenger service generates between $38 and $48 million in annual economic activity, supports up to 220 direct and indirect jobs, and helps deliver more than $5 million in tax revenue to government coffers every year.
More information on this critical regional transportation initiative is available online at www.algomapassengerrail.com.