The final countdown has begun for Huron Central Railway.
As the short-line freight service waits to find out if it has secured provincial funding, the railway’s Montreal-based parent company recently notified employees that their positions would be terminated when the railway ceases operations on Dec. 18.
“This notice is a fulfillment of our obligations as an employer following the previously announced termination of Huron Central Railway’s operations by the end of the year,” said Michael Williams, the vice-president of corporate communications at Genesee & Wyoming Inc (G&W).
“None of the 43 Huron Central Railway employees have been laid off yet.”
G&W announced the closure in early September, saying that it had not been able to secure $40 million in government funding to rehabilitate the 288-km line that runs between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
The rail-line services Algoma Steel Inc. (formerly Essar Steel Algoma) in Sault Ste. Marie, Domtar’s Espanola pulp and paper mill, and EACOM’s Nairn Centre sawmill, which is located about 55 kilometres southwest of Sudbury.
The supply route for the region’s forestry and steel industries transports more than 12,000 carloads of freight annually.
Huron Central has sounded the alarm twice in the past, once a decade ago and again two years ago, indicating that it needs millions in funding to maintain the track or it will have to cease operations.
According to Sudbury-area MPs Paul Lefebvre and Marc Serre, the provincial and federal governments each contributed $15 million in subsidies for capital upgrades to the line in 2010.
Two years ago, Huron Central applied to the National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF) under Transport Canada for funding to carry out further track bed improvements, rail replacement and bridge upgrades.
“Ultimately, Huron Central’s application was not successful because of the railway’s failure to secure financial support from either the private sector or the Ontario government,” said Lefebvre and Serre in a column published by The Sudbury Star last week.
The MPs encouraged Huron Central to continue to work with the province, but to their understanding, the rail-line has been unable to secure the long-term funding commitment that would allow them to qualify for federal funding.
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development, and Mines said that the provincial government “provided almost a million dollars in interim funding to Huron Central Railway for maintenance” in 2018.
The rail-line also applied for provincial funding more recently and is awaiting a response.
“Huron Central submitted an application for funding through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC). The NOHFC is currently reviewing the application,” said Alex Puddifant.
“We continue to review transportation in the north and are identifying opportunities to develop a modern and sustainable transportation network across Northern Ontario. The review will explore ways to support Ontario’s rail freight, and rail manufacturing and repair operations in the north.”
It is unclear whether securing NOHFC funding is the “long-term commitment” that Huron Central needs to qualify for the NTCF.
As the fate of the short-line rail service hangs in the balance, other private sector companies have shown an interest in taking over operations of Huron Central. This includes Milman Industries Inc. from Greater Sudbury.
G&W, however, is not giving up just yet.
“We continue to work diligently with both levels of government to find a solution to avert the shutdown. We have committed to maintain full employment and service until the last train runs.”
- Colleen Romaniuk, Local Journalism Initiative, Sudbury Star