Three companies submit bids to operate Algoma Central

From the Sault Star:

1297568111753_ORIGINALThree rail companies have submitted formal bids to operate the Algoma Central Railway passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

The same three rail companies have also submitted bids to CN Rail to operate the tour train service.

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group met Monday to hear CN Rail’s take on the formal bids and to further assess the bids for the passenger service.

“We will move the markers forward, we’re just not sure how much yet,” said city CAO Joe Fratesi prior to the meeting.

If CN Rail provides information that it has selected a preferred operator, then the working group will need to determine how it’s plans and ideas will merge with that operator.

Following the meeting, Fratesi said that CN and the working group have zeroed in on a provider but still needs to seek some clarification and missing information.

“It’s fairly important details that we’re looking for,” Fratesi said. He anticipates a response by the potential operator in early January.

He could not disclose what information is needed by either CN or the working group.

Once that information is received, and all the parties are satisfied, Fratesi said a plan can be put together for the Transport Minister.

It’s believed that all parties are pleased that the same companies submitted bids to run both the passenger service and the tour train operations.

“It would be very awkward if they were not the same of if one company was good for one purpose but not the other,” Fratesi said.

He stressed that there will be a role for the federal government to play in the continued operation of the passenger rail service.

“We have been told that they (the federal government) won’t play a role to the contribution they are currently involved in, but there will be a role for them,” he said. “And we have never faltered in our view that there needs to be federal support there for the long term and we all need to feel comfortable with the arrangement.”

Linda Savory-Gordon, co-chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains and member of the working group, said she’s pleased with the quality of the applicants.

“We’re anxious for a decision to be made so we can move forward with a sustainability plan and increase ridership and train events,” she said.

Savory-Gordon is a firm believer that special train events will create a strong draw and boost in revenue for the successful operator.

“We saw our Searchmont North Pole Express sell out in 20 minutes and I believe that’s a strong indication that these type of events could boost the revenue stream and make the train more sustainable,” she said.

Once a third-party operator is selected to operate the passenger service, a sustainability plan will be presented to the federal government, outlining recommendations that include efficiency improvements, economic benefits of a continued rail passenger service and a request for assistance to continue the train operations.

The ACR Passenger Service Working Group represents a large number of stakeholders who rely on the passenger train service for their communities, businesses or tourism, among other things.

It was formed in 2014, shortly after the federal government announced its intention to eliminate a $2.2 million annual investment in the remote passenger rail operation.

The service is currently operating as a result of the government granting the funding a one-year extension, giving the stakeholder’s group an opportunity to come up with a working plan.

The funding ends in March.

An economic impact assessment completed by BDO Canada showed that the ACR passenger service generates more than $38 million in annual economic activity in the region.