Is there a government subsidy in the cards for the Huron Central Railway? New incoming ownership for Genesee & Wyoming may finally free up government funding.

Author:Ross, Ian
 
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U.S. federal regulators have approved the sale of short-line railroader Genesee & Wyoming to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners.

The Connecticut-based carrier is the parent company of Genesee & Wyoming Canada (G&WC), operators of the Huron Central Railway, which runs between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.

The approval may finally loosen the purse strings on a government subsidy to keep rail freight moving in northeastern Ontario, at least for another five years.

Earlier this fall, G&WC vowed to drop service in early 2020 if Ottawa and Queen's Park didn't come through with a $40-million aid package for track maintenance and federally mandated safety upgrades.

It's the third time in a decade the Montreal-based rail carrier has threatened to discontinue service.

G&WC claims there's not enough revenue generated from traffic on the 278-kilometre line to cover those infrastructure costs, and they can't do it alone.

What was complicating matters in flowing funds to the railway was the timing of the federal election last October, as well as the status of Genesee & Wyoming's ownership situation.

Last July, Brookfield and GIC, a Singapore investment firm, announced it was acquiring Genesee & Wyoming in a US$8.4-billion deal.

But the U.S. Surface Transportation Board (STB) had indefinitely held up the deal for review, until just recently.

The regulatory hurdle now appears to be cleared, with Brookfield stating in its recent thirdquarter report that the STB approved the transaction in October.

The acquisition of Genesee & Wyoming was expected to close by year's end.

With the Trudeau government re-elected and federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau remaining at the helm, former Sault Ste. Marie mayor and retired CAO Joe Fratesi, leader of a railway stakeholders' task force, called the STB approval "absolutely positive news."

"Our stakeholder task force has requested a meeting with both Garneau and the provincial minister's office (Caroline Mulroney).... Hopefully we see signs that positive news will be made."

Fratesi remains "cautiously optimistic" that both levels of government will come through with support for the crucial regional transportation...

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