The company slated to take over operation of passenger rail service to Hearst has been granted an operator’s certificate by Transport Canada, which has removed one more hurdle for the operation.
Michigan-based Railmark had been in talks with Transport Canada for some time, seeking funding for the service as well as their licensing requirements to legally run trains in Canada.
News of the $5.3-million funding over three years was reported late Tuesday and B. Allen Brown, president and CEO of Railmark, said his operating certificate arrived early this morning.
“We’re so excited about this project,” said Brown.
Railmark will now actively begin hiring. Brown figures the company will formally take over full operation of the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger service around May 1.
“We have employees, train engineers who need to move back to the Sault where their family came from. Some need to give notice to their employer,” he said.
In the interim, CN Rail will operate the passenger service under its regular schedule with no disruption in service, said Sault Ste. Marie CAO Joe Fratesi.
According to Fratesi, employees who were recently laid off by CN have agreed to return to work to provide the interim service.
Railmark is still in the process of gaining provincial certification, but expects that process will be complete in the very near future.
He said the certification process has been tightened because of the Lac-Mégantic disaster and Railmark is the first company to complete the newest safety requirements.
In addition, Brown sees a role for the working group, who worked to save the service, in the future of the ACR and Agawa Canyon Tour train.
“I want the working group to be formalized. I want us to have monthly meetings. In addition to the working group, it’s important to keep in touch with the actual customers who depend on the line,” he said.
Brown said taking over operation of the service fulfills two of his loves; trains and the outdoors.
“Over the years I have been in awe of how cool Northern Ontario is.”
Now that funding and federal certification are in place, Railmark can get down to business planning and promoting the service.
Brown has taken the ACR passenger train as far as Hawk Junction. He sees the stop as a major focus moving forward.
Plans there call for snowmobile rentals and the opening of an outfitter shop which will sell everything from bait and ice to beer.
Brown plans on operating the profitable Agawa Canyon Tour train and ACR passenger service as separate businesses and any new trains, such as a resurrected Snow Train will be run under the ACR banner to restore it to profitability.
That’s not to say he won’t tinker with the tour train.
“If you increase the train experience for the customer and more intense marketing and the tour train will improve on its own,” he said.
“Our goal is to not lose $2.2-million a year on this operation,” he said, referring to the previous subsidy provided to CN to run the ACR service.
Brown gives much of the credit of saving the train to the working group.
“I can’t say enough about Joe (Fratesi) and his team and the city of Sault Ste. Marie and the stakeholder’s group. This is truly a great effort.”
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(CAPT handout photo/Jeff McColl)