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The Ontario government has committed almost $1 million that will keep a critical Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury rail link chugging along for another year.
Sault Ste. Marie MPP Ross Romano, Parliamentary assistant to the Ministry of Energy, Northern Development and Mines, announced Thursday that Huron Central Railway will receive $980,000 to support its operations.
The money will come from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corp., and allow the railway, government and stakeholders time to continue to review operations and future infrastructure needs, Romano said.
“We will not rest easy on this. This is an interim solution that gives our government some opportunity to look forward to a sustainable operation and ensuring we have our due diligence done,” he said.
Romano said he realizes that this rail line is important to the community and to the region as a whole.
“At the end of the day, the primary customer of HCR is Algoma and the other prime customers are Domtar and Eacom,” he said.
Romano said longer-term, sustainable infrastructure needs to be developed to move the community and rail line forward. “This region requires that infrastructure.”
Former CAO for the City of Sault Ste. Marie and co-chair of the task force, Joe Fratesi, said the temporary measure is enough. If it hadn’t been provided, then Huron Central Railway would be winding up operations now.
“This provides a level of funding that can keep them going while we work on a longer term plan,” Fratesi told reporters.
“I am pretty confident, given the commitment that Ross acknowledged today, that the importance of the railway to the community and to the region, that the province will find a way in which this whole operation can keep going,” he said.
Sault Coun. Steve Butland said the money is a temporary situation, but buys enough time to continue the conversation with the provincial and federal government.
Butland said the federal government had always said that it was willing to help out if Huron Central and the province also came to the table.
Further discussions will now bring in the federal government and Sault MP Terry Sheehan.
Fratesi said the task force will continue lobbying both levels of government for a longer-term commitment in order to provide more stability for Huron Central Railway into the future.
Advocates have said that government support is needed for the rail line to preserve jobs, not only at Huron Central Railway, but also at other industries that rely on the railway to get their products to market.
No railway would also mean about 30,000 more trucks on Ontario’s highways, creating a greater need for road renewal infrastructure and a concern for the safety of motorists.
Road transportation is also less environmental friendly than rail.
During the 2009 campaign for government infrastructure funding, 82.9 miles of track was in such poor condition that trains had to travel at 10 miles per hour. Now that has been reduced to 1.4 miles of track, decreasing the time it takes for freight to travel from 14 hours to seven hours to reach a destination.
Other parts of the infrastructure are now in dire need of repair.
Earlier this year Genesee & Wyoming, operators of Huron Central Railway, said it would end operations on the line by year end of there is no funding support from government to maintain the line.
It argues that profits aren’t enough to enable sustainable capital investment to maintain and rehabilitate the line that stretches from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury.
The parent company had said that it needs government to provide $46 million over five years to make infrastructure improvements on the line.
This is the second time the government has provided infrastructure funding to the line.
In 2010, the federal and provincial governments provided $30 million to Huron Central Railway over a five-year period for line improvements needed at that time, while Huron Central contributed $11 million.
This article first appeared on www.thesudburystar.com
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