Members of the Huron Central Railway joined Sault Ste Marie MPP Ross Romano Thursday afternoon as he announced the Provincial government’s plans to fund the rail line, giving them $980,000 to help them stay in operation.
Huron Central Railway operates 288 kilometres of rail between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie. The railway moves freight shipments for companies vital to Ontario’s Northern economy, including Algoma, Eacom Timber and Domtar.
HCR Task Force member Joe Fratesi said that this money buys the company one full year of operation, saving over 600 jobs between the Sault, Espanola, and Nairn Centre, and over 3,400 in total.
“There are a lot of people who depend on this, and we’re not even talking about transports and highway safety and the cost of the province for maintenance of those things,” he said. “It would be obviously adversely affected if this announcement had not been made today.”
Fratesi said this is “absolutely not” a band aid solution; rather, it’s a way to buy them more time and to make improvements to the rails, ballast, level crossings and to address new regulations and requirements.
Romano said this funding is a way for the government to show that “Ontario is open for business.”
“We want to make sure, as a government, that we’re committed to working together with HCR and for all other users of the rail line,” he explained. “We want to make sure that this rail line is successful moving forward, we need to make sure that it’s a sustainable operation moving forward. This is vital infrastructure for Northern Ontario.”
He said, that aside from the obvious next steps of cutting the cheque, the next course of action the provincial government is planning to take involves looking at the Federal government to see what they’re going to be prepared to do to assist in this operation moving forward.
“I am optimistic that our Federal MP Terry Sheehan will be working for his constituents as well, to make sure that we can figure out how the Feds are going to be able to contribute to this project,” he said.
Originally, HCR was asking for $21.4 million from the province and $21.4 million from the Federal government, the remainder coming from HCR’s private side, for a total of $44 million.
Romano said the despite the financial challenges the province is currently facing, with a deficit of $15 billion, the Provincial government wanted to do something to address the short-term problem.
“Our perspective moving forward, mine having been given carriage of this file, was ‘what can we do at this time to be able to continue conversations, ensure that the infrastructure is preserved, ensure that it is not lost for Northern Ontario, but still give us the opportunity to look forward to the next five years and ensure that we have something that is sustainable and viable moving forward,” he explained. “And given that we were working really directly with HCR and with the taskforce at this time, on behalf of the provincial government, this seemed like the most logical and effective way to address the short-term solution, but doesn’t in any way compromise the long-term plan.”