Sending Ottawa a 'wake-up call': Chambers call for dedicated funding to sustain Huron Central Railway.

Position:TRANSPORTATION
 
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Stop-gap funding from Queen's Park is keeping the Huron Central Railway (HCR) chugging for another year between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie. But northeastern Ontario chambers of commerce want Ottawa to pitch in to support shortline railways.

Chambers from Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury wrote a Nov. 19 letter to federal transport minister Marc Garneau asking Ottawa to "reduce regulatory and administrative barriers" to funding for the Huron Central.

Queen's Park recently delivered $980,000 in interim funding to the rail carrier to extend operations for another year.

However, the chambers want a long-term solution to keep shortline railways, like Huron Central, running for years to come.

"We believe that more can be done to improve the competitiveness of short-line railways in Canada," read the Nov. 19 letter to Garneau, co-signed by Sault Chamber president Don Mitchell, Sudbury Chamber president Debbi Nicholson, Ontario Chamber of Commerce president Rocco Rossi, and Railway Association of Canada president Marc Brazeau.

"The recent challenges faced by HCR however are symbolic of a much larger problem that is impacting Canada's short-line rail system and what we experienced locally should serve as a wake-up call to the government, to municipalities and manufacturers across the country that more has to be done to support our shortline rail links," added Mitchell in a Nov. 20 news release.

A dozen short-line rail carriers in Ontario serve 150 communities. Collectively, Canada's more than 50 short lines move $20.3 billion worth of metals, lumber, grain and manufactured goods each year onto the main lines of CN and CP.

The subsidy from the province this year helped industrial shippers between the Sault and Sudbury dodge a bullet that could have been devastating to the region's economy.

The Huron Central's Montreal-based parent company, Genesee & Wyoming Canada, threatened to pull service by Nov. 1 if $43.2 million in subsidies didn't arrive for track maintenance and federally mandated safety upgrades to level crossings.

It was the second time in the less than 10 years the railway announced it would cease operations if government funding wasn't available.

Back in 2010, Ontario and Ottawa provided $30 million in joint funding for the company to use toward track improvements and bridge repairs. That funding...

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