Game planning to save a railroad: Sault Ste. Marie takes lead in lobbying for government dollars for short-line railway.

Author:Ross, Ian

Supporters behind preserving northeastern Ontario short-line rail service beyond 2018 were planning to meet for a big-tent strategy session in Sault Ste. Marie at the end of July.

Sault councillor Steve Butland said industrial shippers, community and Indigenous leaders from the Algoma and Sudbury districts, along with management from the Huron Central Railway, expected to gather on July 25 to devise a plan and pitch on approaching Queen's Park for a subsidy to keep rail freight moving between the Sault and Sudbury.

Genesee & Wyoming Canada, the Huron Central's parent company, announced in May that it intends to discontinue operations on the 173-mile (278 kilometres) line at year's end, citing financial difficulties with needed track maintenance and federally-mandated safety upgrades.

The railroad wants $43.2-million in subsidies, which would be split evenly between the federal and provincial governments.

Butland and the city expects new premier Doug Ford to make good on his campaign promise to fund the railway's track program with money from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund.

"With the premier saying, 'Yes we support this,' it's pretty hard for him to go back on this. He made all sorts of commitments for Northern Ontario."

The line serves Essar Steel Algoma in the Sault, the Domtar pulp mill in Espanola, and the EACOM sawmill in Nairn Centre.

The loss of the railroad would be devastating to a single-mill town like Espanola and would jeopardize the viability of the forest products industry along that line.

For a Sault, it would remove one of two Class 1 railways for the steelmaker.

Budand and Joe Fratesi, the city's retired chief administrative officer, are the municipality's point men on this file.

It's familiar ground for both men.

In 2009, Fratesi was instrumental in working with the province and the federal government to put together a $33-million track aid package when the Huron Central threatened closure within 30 days. That funding pool has since dried up.

Depending on how the Sault meeting goes, Butland said they're proposing to send a delegation to the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) conference in Ottawa in August to lobby on the railway's behalf.

The annual AMO conference is a once-a-year gathering where municipal leaders get scheduled face-time with provincial cabinet ministers.

Butland said they've requested a meeting with new Energy, Northern Development and Mines Minister Greg Rickford, who holds the purse...

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