Missanabie Cree First Nation Chief Jason Gauthier says that a revised business plan for passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst has placed his First Nation in a position to finally put the ‘Bear Train’ on track.
The latest proposal, submitted to Transport Canada Deputy Minister Michael Keenan Oct. 4, is the third business plan developed for the proposed Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban [Cree for 'Bear Train'].
“We can carry around the business plan, we can promote the passenger service to be restarted,” Gauthier told SooToday Thursday. “So I think that the work had to be done to update the existing business plan.”
“It was good to begin with, but there was a couple things, through time, that had to be addressed. We spent the time and money to make sure the business plan was updated.”
The latest business plan was authored, in part, by Richard Lande - a lawyer with four decades of experience in transportation law - at a cost of approximately $30,000.
“This third iteration of the business plan is more thorough, detailed and complete than the previous ones presented to Transport Canada,” Gauthier stated in a news release earlier this week. “All of the many stakeholder groups from the Algoma rail corridor as well as several rail experts were consulted and contributed to the final version of the plan.”
The revised business plan is asking for a total of $12,325,000 over the next five years.
Just over $10 million of that funding would come from Transport Canada under that plan, Gauthier confirmed.
Missanabie Cree First Nation has cleared the other hurdles required by the federal government for the Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban [Bear Train] proposal, namely the completion of a safety plan and the possession of a Rail Operating Certificate.
Proponents of the Bear Train say that according to a 2014 economic impact assessment by BDO Canada, the annual economic impact of the now-defunct Algoma Central Railway was somewhere between $38 million and $48 million.
That passenger rail service was shuttered in July 2015.
Passenger rail proponents say that given those numbers, the regional economy has lost out on well over $200 million since that time.
Gauthier says the timing of the business plan submission wasn’t political in nature.
“I don’t think it was the election as much as it was the completion of the business plan,” said Gauthier. “I think that we’re excited for everybody to see the business plan and what our scenario is, and the vision of the passenger service for Sault Ste. Marie.”
The news of the completed business plan for Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban - which was sent to local media via press release Tuesday - coincided with a press release issued by the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) that same day, calling on local electoral candidates to “declare their stance on renewing rail service in the north” while throwing its continued support behind the Bear Train.
Dean Anderson, who took over as CAPT co-chair this past summer, says that the passenger rail advocacy group has so far heard from PC, NDP and Green Party candidates locally.
“If you were to tell the people that take the GO Train everyday that they have to start looking for alternative means to subsidize part of their transportation infrastructure through marketing and tourism, they wouldbe up in arms,” Anderson told SooToday. “For us northerners, we’re just sucking it up and doing it.”
“This is a vital part of transportation infrastructure that we are missing.”
The original business plan for Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban was funded by what was then known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada for $200,000 back in 2016.