Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt will visit Sault Ste. Marie’s Civic Centre Monday morning to make what is hoped will be a good news announcement in regards to the future of Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger rail service between the Sault and Hearst.
An ACR Passenger Service Working Group, chaired by city Chief Administrative Officer Joe Fratesi, has been lobbying the federal government with the assistance of Sault MP Bryan Hayes for a one-year extension in funding for Sault to Hearst passenger rail service.
That one-year extension, the group has said, will give it time to work out a plan to ensure the service’s long-term availability.
“I’m optimistic our request for a one-year extension is what Minister Raitt is going to talk about,” Fratesi said, speaking to SooToday.com late Friday afternoon.
“The Minister doesn’t usually come to the community to tell us ’no’ to a request,” Fratesi said.
The announcement that Raitt would visit the Sault came late Friday afternoon.
Fratesi said he had been conferring with Raitt’s staff and MP Hayes all day Friday and is encouraging all stakeholders to attend Monday morning’s announcement (11:30 a.m.) at the Civic Centre.
CN Rail announced in January that because $2.2 million in annual federal funding for passenger rail service from the Sault to Hearst had been discontinued by the federal government, it had decided to end ACR passenger service between the two communities.
That service is due to end April 29.
With Friday’s announcement of Raitt’s upcoming visit to the Sault, that situation may change.
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.
A draft economic impact study prepared by BDO Canada highlighting the importance of Sault to Hearst passenger rail service has been given to Transport Canada before the final report is released later this month.
ACR PASSENGER SERVICE WORKING GROUP
The Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Transport, will be in Sault Ste. Marie on Monday to make an announcement regarding Algoma Central Railway passenger service.
Stakeholders and other interested parties are invited to attend the announcement, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. outside City Council Chambers on the third level of the Civic Centre.
WHAT? Announcement from Transport Canada
WHEN? Monday, April 14 at 11:30 a.m.
WHERE? Third Level, Sault Ste. Marie Civic Centre
For background on this transportation initiative, please visit www.algomapassengerrail.com.
The Federal Government’s financial support for Algoma Central Railway passenger service nets a considerable return on investment.
According to a draft socio-economic impact assessment prepared by BDO Canada, the Sault-to-Hearst line generates significant economic activity, which sustains hundreds of jobs and yields millions of dollars in tax revenue for the government.
The draft of the socio-economic impact assessment is now being shared with Transport Canada.
Feedback is being sought before the report is finalized and released publically later this month.
The ACR Passenger Service Working Group, which is vying to ensure the long-term sustainability of the rail line, has requested a meeting with the Minister of Transport to discuss the impact assessment and the future of this regional transportation link.
“We’re making a strong business case to the Federal Government that support of the ACR passenger line is a worthwhile investment,” said Joe Fratesi, CAO of the City of Sault Ste. Marie and Chair of the ACR Passenger Service Working Group. “We partnered with BDO, one of the country’s leading accounting and advisory firms, to help us assess the financial impact of this rail service. Based on the results of the draft social-economic assessment, we believe, at a minimum, a one-year extension of Transport Canada’s investment is warranted so we can work with stakeholders to find solutions to keep the service viable well into the future.”
Using ridership numbers from CN Rail, the owner/operator of the ACR, BDO’s socio-economic impact assessment also relied on a stakeholder survey, which was prepared by the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation, to help understand how and why passengers use the service.
For instance, once it was known what percentage of riders are tourists, industry standard rates for regional visitor spending were applied to measure that aspect of the rail line.
Likewise, conservative estimates on the average values of cottages and tourist lodges along the tracks were used to gauge the overall property value supported by the passenger service.
The stakeholder survey garnered nearly 500 responses, generating a significant sample size.
The ACR Passenger Service Working Group represents a broad range of concerned stakeholders, including municipalities, First Nations, small businesses, outdoor enthusiasts, tourism lodge operators and property owners who use the railway as a means of transportation.
The Working Group invites interested stakeholders to a meeting on Thursday, April 17 at 1 p.m. in the Russ Ramsay Room of the Sault Ste. Marie Civic Centre.
The meeting will provide an opportunity to hear a presentation on the BDO report.
“We welcome all stakeholders who depend on the line to attend the meeting and provide feedback,” said Tom Dodds, CEO of the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation and a member of the ACR Passenger Service Working Group. “We look forward to hearing from the stakeholders and discussing next steps with them.”
For more information on this transportation initiative, including reports and current news, please visit www.algomapassengerrail.com.