Mayor and Council Concerned Over Rail Service Agreement

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The agreement that will see Railmark Canada operate passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst still has several unknowns.

Sault EDC CEO Tom Dodds answered questions from council Monday night but several councillors remain confused on the whole deal.

“Railmark Canada has met most of the conditions required to sign final documents between the company and the City to access funding from Transport Canada, but work on securing financing on a line of credit equaling three months operating costs, Dodd said.

CN Rail will continue to operate the popular Agawa Canyon Tour Train for this season.

Some councillors are concerned about wording in the agreement – that could leave the City liable for unpaid bills.

Ward 2’s Susan Myers said she concerned about “minimal risk” by the City “I want the risk to the city to be non-existent.”

Dodds assured council that he is confident that the system will work.

Mayor Provenzano however, doesn’t seem convinced. “It scares me, the role we’re playing now, I need to be convinced it is in Sault Ste. Marie’s best interest and there is no risk for the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie”

Transport Canada announced over a year ago it was stopping its funding of $2.2 million annually to CN (the current operators of the rail line) because the route no longer fits the criteria of “remote access”

Stakeholders organized to complete a business case study showing the direct economic benefit to the area and Sault Ste. Marie. The plan called for a third party operator run the passenger service along with the Tour Train.

Railmark came forward with an optimistic plan to increase marketing and business opportunities and would receive   $5.3 million over three years – it is hoped that the company would be self sustaining by its sixth year of operation with increased ridership for passenger service and marketing efforts to boost tourist numbers for the Tour Train.

Dodds said the clock is ticking on Railmark to secure funding and met all criteria required. Dodds expects to report back to council on the matter to determine if the City will sign the agreement.