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Fighting to save Sault to Hearst rail service (updated)

Monday, February 03, 2014   by: Darren Taylor


Sault Ste. Marie City Council unanimously approved, at its regular meeting Monday, a resolution designed to address CN Rail's recent, sudden announcement regarding cancellation of passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

CN Rail announced January 24 that, because $2.2 million in annual federal funding for passenger rail service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst has been discontinued by the federal government, it has decided to end Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger service between the two communities March 31, 2014. 

The route is a vital link to private cottages and crucial to the commercial success of hunting and fishing lodges between the Sault and Hearst, most of which can only be accessed by rail.

The resolution passed unanimously by Council Monday calls for Council to convince the federal government (Transport Canada) to continue financial support of CN’s operation of the Sault to Hearst rail route for a further period of one year.

That one-year period, the resolution states, would give all stakeholders (the federal government, CN, the City, cottage and lodge owners, supporters of passenger rail service, etc.) a chance to come together and work out a plan to keep the Sault to Hearst line running in the long term.

The resolution calls for a meeting of all stakeholders as soon as possible to form a committee, similar to that which was formed to address CP Rail and Huron Central Rail’s intention to shut down rail operations between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.

In that particular case, a working committee of stakeholders, formed in 2009, won a similar one year reprieve, along with federal government funding for one year, while various parties (the federal and provincial governments, communities and industries) came together and eventually, successfully ensured continued, long-term rail service between the Sault and Sudbury.

A report to Council from Sault Ste. Marie Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Joe Fratesi states the stakeholders along the Sault to Hearst line are frustrated that they have been given “little to no notice of CN’s intentions or of the Federal government’s position with respect to continued financial assistance for the operation of this rail line.”

With members of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) in attendance Monday, Ward Five City Councillor Marchy Bruni stated: "This cancellation must be stopped…CN Rail is talking about the loss of $2 million, but how much money will be lost if this service is cancelled?"

"Just ask a lodge owner," Bruni said.

Bruni, along with other Councillors, expressed his concern over the sudden nature of CN's announcement.

There was a lack of communication from the federal government and CN, Bruni said, likening the situation to the sudden announcement by Canada Post in December of changes it plans in its services.

Ward One City Councillor Paul Christian called CN's policy "absurd."

Christian added, however, that he was optimistic a resolution can be reached.

Fratesi told Council a meeting of stakeholders will be held in the near future.

CN’s announcement came not long after its 2013 decision to cease operation of the winter Snow Train from Sault Ste. Marie, despite efforts to promote the tourist attraction with some degree of success.    

In addition, City of Sault Ste. Marie staff are now worried what CN has in mind for freight service along the Sault to Hearst rail route.

Fratesi outlined in a report to Council that the Sault to Hearst line will also serve as an important link in the transportation of raw and/or processed materials to and from the proposed Ring of Fire development, as well as a necessary component for the operation of Sault Ste. Marie’s proposed deep water port.


Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
toady 2/1/2014 3:28:55 PM Report

Would a bud car service work on this line. What are the costs associated with this.
Binder 2/1/2014 3:38:00 PM Report

Hayes was useless as a councilor and even worse as an MP. He only does what Harper allows he to do and say. He was always and forever be a puppet and a useless person with no guts or care for the people he Why would anyone expect him to back this up for all of us CANADIANS HEY.
tuffy1 2/1/2014 3:53:13 PM Report

Possible that cn let another carrier
to use the rails which could allow the
province to address the complete north
with the north lander rail to service
all northern ontario
dadal 2/1/2014 4:29:25 PM Report

"shakes head" I keep telling everyone that CN does NOT want ANY passenger service north of the city! Even IF funding is found, they will not run any train that will result in constant maintenance on the tracks. Freight service will continue because they don't have to do upkeep on the tracks. CN wants to avoid the cost to maintain the tracks so passenger service is safe. Plus they have to pay staff to ride with passengers on the snow, Agawa and Hearst lines. The Agawa will run this year but I bet my mother's right knee they will find any excuse to stop it in October. CN won't repair the dome car, they have few staff in the Canyon and don't want to pay for rail upkeep. City Council can go after the government all they want but in the end the choice is up to CN. And as CN has been cutting passenger service from coast to coast the last few years, it's not going to happen.
LuluBird 2/1/2014 5:14:54 PM Report

Check out this video on the Wawa news site. Great job!!
eadiecougs 2/1/2014 6:17:53 PM Report

screw CN maybe look at another rail line
S.M.A.R.T. 2/1/2014 9:03:41 PM Report

I have never and probably will never use this ACR/CNR? rail line, but if I had been using it and was dependent upon it, I would be beside myself with anger over what is happening. And so should everyone else. That's the problem with what's going on. The government and big business do their dirty work against limited, targeted groups, and the public at large is not affected so they (the bullies) get away with it. Given the climate that we live in folks, more and more it's becoming the little man versus big business interest acting on its own or lobbying the government, and we had better learn soon to stand up for another. So while this rail line has very little impact on my life, I stand with those adversely affected and would join them in an organized effort to turn this thing around.
funkywalker 2/2/2014 6:16:21 AM Report

Very we'll put S.M.A.R.T
If you don't stand up for something you will die with nothing.
help me 2/2/2014 8:15:56 AM Report

Is the CN not government owned? If so that should answer all your questions
happy camper 2/2/2014 8:59:20 AM Report

Very well said funky walker
Longlake 2/2/2014 10:23:13 AM Report

@ Lulubird - I checked out the video on Wawa News website. It is extremely well done. People need to protest this decision. Algoma Central was given huge land grants as incentives to build the railway, and for years profited from the mining, forestry and leasing activities on these lands. Providing passenger rail service on that line was a condition they had to meet to receive these massive land grants. At one time they owned 1.2 million acres between SSM and Hearst, and were the largest private landowner in Ontario.
I agree with some that CN Rail doesn't want to be in the short line business. However if we protest this as loudly as we can, possibly a compromise solution can be worked out. It is very irresponsible of CN to strand the people who have invested thousands of dollars into their camps and lodges north of the Sault!
ProACR 2/3/2014 11:50:43 AM Report

The news of the cancellation of passenger service has been very upsetting for my family. We have a camp on the north end of the line and this has been our summer home for 40 years. Imagine the road to a cottage being removed with 2 months’ notice. The impact to several outfitters along the line is devastating and likely fatal for their business. Many of their clients consider the train ride a highlight of the trip.

Obviously I have a personal bias but I also believe that there is great value to maintaining rail service in Canada from a heritage, environmental, and economic perspective. The railway covers a significant land mass of the province and once passenger service is discontinued only freight trains and maintenance crews will have access to this region....forever. That's 476 km of Canadian wilderness that you will never see even if you wanted to!

This solution cannot be a gratuitous tax handout or it will not be sustainable. This cycle will repeat and ultimately fail next time around. A true private / public partnership will be required from all levels of government and a broader group of businesses.

Some suggestions:
1) Special events to include local travelers. Package deals for special events with hotels or lodges along the way catering to local residents. A bus that meets the train in Hawk Jct and brings travelers to Wawa for the night? A service by Wawa hotels during the winter carnival.
2) Hearst is home to very friendly people but the train arrives in a dark parking lot without a station or amenity of any kind. Not an appealing destination at all. This might be a good place for local and provincial government to invest in a visitors centre catering to the train and highway 11 travelers. Local business should also reach out to the potential customers on the train.
3) The snowmobile trail from Sault Ste. Marie is now closed but was once a huge draw for riders. Riders would get on the train in the Sault and get off in Hawk Jct or Hearst. I believe the trail was closed due to safety reasons after the half way gas station closed. Most snowmobiles can now cover the 250km with no problem. Longer routes exist elsewhere in the province. Perhaps daily patrols are required to ensure safety.
4) Local hotels are losing business to hotels on the US side of the river. Many train passengers spend the night in Michigan. More needs to be done to encourage accommodation in Sault Canada.

Please support passenger rail in Ontario! If you've never taken a train ride before I suggest you do it within the next 60 days.

Steve Lowe
dadal 2/4/2014 8:18:05 AM Report

That video from Wawa is FANTASTIC and hit on the head the root issues involved. Only one minor point is CN has kept up minimum maintenance on the tracks. The washout that occur was due to above and beyond conditions. One can argue that if the bridge and lines were properly maintained they would have stood up. I agree to a point. Remember that also halted freight service which is the core focus of CN operations now. As you all know we will not get a response from the gov or CN over this. Neither cares. Mr Hayes can do his media circus and display a form of caring. But in the end he knows his party does not and he is limited. And CN doesn't care other than possibly a few local jobs lost by the train. The engineers will be reassigned and any union workers. The rest, well CN doesn't care. As CN won't bring that train back, I say the gov MUST pay for access roads for ALL those living along the tracks PLUS one for the Canyon. BTW....the Agawa Canyon summer train CAN drop off people to their camps up to the Canyon and back which will be the solution offered by CN. Doesn't help in the winter nor help the outfitters above the Canyon.
Moose Mountie 2/4/2014 8:53:32 AM Report

While I certainly think that this is a wrong-headed decision made, apparently with no consultation with the affected folks don't lay all the blame on CN. Our federal government of which our local MP is a member cut the subsidy to CN and Mr. hayes would have us believe that this has had no affetc on CN's decision. Lay the blame where it belongs with our local MP.
OH IT'S ME AGAIN 2/4/2014 10:19:15 AM Report

Has anyone seen Bryan Hayes.
Please report his location.
Tag33&1/3rd 2/4/2014 10:30:27 AM Report

Lol if CN owns it completely and they made their decision -- then there's nothing that can be done. It is theirs to do what they want. The question is how did it get to the point of a company have sole ownership of land that belongs to the country of Canada? (you know what I mean)
B Boy 2/4/2014 11:11:12 AM Report

@Tag - that goes back a long way I'd say
BigJake 2/4/2014 11:42:18 AM Report

So, what about the losers at the EDC? Off tilting at other windmills, like the OLG?
macgyvr 2/4/2014 12:23:45 PM Report

I saw him at the airport last Saturday. Probably going to hide in Ottawa.
habsfan 2/5/2014 8:36:18 AM Report

Do what the natives do when they arnt happy. STAND ON THE RAIL LINE AND SHUT THEM DOWN.
for rail 3/14/2014 11:21:53 PM Report

I find it funny that both the federal government and the provincial government have all kinds of money to fund metro link in toronto ontario but no money to fund rail service in the north.Both the O.N.T.C. and the algoma rail system are very important to us in norhtern ontario but yet as allways toronto gets all the cash
Note: Comments that appear on the site are not the opinion of If you see an abusive post, please click the link beside the post to report it.
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