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Train transition not going as expected: EDC

Passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst has yet to resume and the CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (EDC) says he is concerned.

Passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst has yet to resume and the CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (EDC) says he is concerned.

“We are concerned because our expectations for a transition are different from the transition that is occurring right now. We wanted to have things in place and planned,” Tom Dodds, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation and member of the ACR Passenger Service Stakeholders Working Group.

CN had agreed to run the passenger service until May 1 while Railmark was to receive final certifications.

“CN is most concerned, as are we, that he has the appropriate authorization to operate,” said Dodds.

The final CN-run ACR passenger train arrived in the Sault last Friday.

“What surprised everybody was we were not given a lot of notice. I called Friday wondering what was happening. The train was coming down and I asked ‘what is next?’ I’m getting calls the station isn’t open,” said Dodds.

B. Allen Brown, CEO and president of Railmark Holdings, Inc, told SooToday in a brief interview on Monday that passenger service will resume Thursday.

“It wasn’t completely smooth, but it’s manageable,” said Brown, of the transition.

In March, Wixom, Michigan-based Railmark was announced as the successful third-party operator to operate the passenger service on the Algoma Central Railway line owned by CN Rail.

The federal government announced shortly thereafter that it would subsidize the service to the tune of $5.3-million over three years, with funding distributed by the city.

Dodds said Tuesday none of that money has yet been passed to Railmark.

He added that the city of Sault Ste. Marie will distribute the subsidy flowing to Railmark, while the EDC’s role is to act as manager of the funds.

“We have to be confident the service he is providing is the service we have been led to believe would be provided,” said Dodds.

He said Railmark, as the third-party operator, must incur any cost it makes a claim for and provide proof of payment before receiving any of the subsidy money.

“So there’s a really strong due diligence part of the role in play to protect the interests of the taxpayers of Sault Ste. Marie,” said Dodds.

Only once the third-party operator has proven it has has the financial wherewithal to provide the service will a cheque be cut, said Dodds.

Brown said plans announced two weeks ago - that the train schedule will be scaled back from three trains a week down to two - are on hold for the moment.

Dodds countered that any changes to the schedule would have to be agreed upon by the city of Sault Ste. Marie and Transport Canada.

“B. Allen Brown is not the determinant of what the schedule is going to be,” he said.

Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, a not-for-profit group that has been advocating for continuation of rail service between the Sault and Hearst, declined to comment on the situation.

"We're just hoping the train service will resume soon," said Linda Savory-Gordon, CAPT co-chair.

(PHOTO: An ACR passenger train is pictured in this file photo. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday)