The Huron Central Railway (HCR) is receiving $980,000 from the provincial government in order to keep the 288 kilometre rail line connecting Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury operational for the next year, with the expectation that a longer term solution will happen sometime within the next year.
Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano, members of the HCR task force and HCR officials were flanked by local HCR employees at the local HCR station on Oakland Avenue on Thursday to make the announcement.
“Last week or so, we started to get the sense that while the bigger announcement was not going to be made, there was talk between Huron Central and the provincial government that they had come to some agreement as to what level of funding would keep them going long enough, so that we can continue working on the longer term plan,” HCR task force co-chair Joe Fratesi told reporters following the announcement. “I’m pretty confident given the commitment that Ross acknowledged today the importance of the railway to the community and the region that the province will find a way in which this whole operation can be sustained.”
Earlier this year, HCR officials informed both federal and provincial levels of government that it would require just over $42 million over the next five years for maintenance and rehabilitation work along the short rail line, which serves EACOM Timber Corporation in Nairn Centre, Domtar in Espanola and Sault Ste. Marie-based steelmaker Algoma.
“This is going to ensure that we have time as a government moving forward to work with HCR and ensure that we have a viable solution for the future,” Romano told reporters at the local HCR office. “We want to make sure as a government that we are committed to working together with HCR and for all other users of the rail line.”
“We want to make sure this rail line is successful moving forward, we need to make sure that it’s a sustainable operation moving forward,” he continued. “This is an indication from our government at this time that we believe that Ontario needs to be open for business.”
The federal government said that it would consider ponying up its share of the original $42 million funding proposal, but that it would only commit to that funding if the province shelled out its share first.
The HCR’s original funding proposal pitched to the National Trade Corridor Fund was rejected by the federal government in April 2018.
Following that rejection, HCR announced that it would pull up stakes and cease operations on the CP-owned line by the end of the year if an agreement with both levels of government couldn’t be reached.
The HCR task force is now looking to Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan to come to the table.
“Terry’s office is waiting to see how we make out here,” Fratesi said. “We will no doubt be telling Terry that we expect him to get to the table in a tangible way.”
“The province did not make their commitment conditional on matching federal funds at this point in time, though we expect that the bigger package in fact will make that kind of a condition.”
It’s hoped that a longer financial commitment can be negotiated before the interim funding runs dry, but with the province standing in the shadow of a larger than expected deficit, it’s hard for anyone to commit to a time frame for the funding.
“We’re hopeful that we don’t need the full year, but again, we’re going to hear in the next couple of days, I’m told, the province’s woes financially,” Fratesi said. “I think it was a good move on Ross’ part trying to get this away from the announcement by the province as to its fiscal problems, so that we can move on to a better time - a more stable time, a more likely time - that the province will make commitments to the longer term.”
The Huron Central Railway received $33 million in order to carry out extensive repairs to the railway in 2010.
The railway, which has a 40-year lease from Canadian Pacific Railway, currently employs 43 people in Sault Ste. Marie.