Transport Canada sets Oct. 30th as deadline to submit business plans for operation of Algoma Central passenger service

From the Sault Star:

The ACR passenger train rolls into Sault Ste. Marie from Hearst March 31, 2015 at the CN Rail yard in the city's west end. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star
The ACR passenger train rolls into Sault Ste. Marie from Hearst March 31, 2015 at the CN Rail yard in the city’s west end. Jeffrey Ougler/Sault Star

Three companies who have expressed interest in operating the passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst have been provided with the numbers they need to complete full business case proposals.

The proposals are due Oct. 30, 2015.

Tom Dodds, chair of the stakeholder committee tasked with making a recommendation to city council, said the parties who submitted request for proposals are all different than those companies who provided bids the first time around.

The companies, a mix of Canadian and American companies, have a range of experience varying from commuter rail service to tour trains.

The original submissions all had different approaches and styles and none of the proponents had the detailed information by CN Railway required to develop a complete business case, Dodds said.

That information has now been provided to the proponents and criteria of evaluation has been clearly articulated so that the proposals can be compared evenly and fairly, he said.

“We have to compare apples to apples and we need certain measurables to do that and we think we’ll get this in the full business case proposals,” he said.

Dodds said the three proponents, whom he cannot name at this time, have also expressed some possible interest I running the tour train as well.

It’s not known if CN Railway has had discussions with other companies interested in the tour train but it has been made clear that anyone interested in the passenger train service must submit documents to Dodds and participate in the RFP process, he said.

All the submissions will be evaluated on a number of criteria that include the need to satisfy CN Railway on asset requirements, federal legislative and regulatory requirements, business plans acceptable to Transport Canada for funding requirements, requirements by the City of Sault Ste. Marie.

“These potential proponents may have a different framework going forward that what has been presented to use in the past,” Dodds said.

Stakeholders along the line have also provided ideas that may see a different type of service, more in tune with seasonal needs.

Minimum requirements during CN Railway’s operation of the train was to provide 104 trips per year; they operated 156 trips per year. Railmark’s proposal was initially for 156 trips per year.

“A new proponent may change those numbers or redistribute those numbers to accommodate the busier tourist season,” he said. Operators will be required to pay CN Railway a line user fee.

Earlier this year it was announced that a Michigan company, Railmark Ltd., was the successful proponent of the first RFP to run both the passenger rail service and the tour train.

However the deal was never signed because Railmark was unable to meet all the pre-conditions required in the contract. Railmark had not received any financial compensation for running the train. CN Railway resumed operation of the tour train and the passenger service was halted mid July.

The entire issue began more than a year ago after it was announced that the federal government was withdrawing its $2.2 million annual subsidy for the passenger train service and CN Railway said it would discontinue operations.

The local stakeholder group was formed, a business case completed and the passenger train service was reinstated in a remote access funding program, with a guarantee of $5.3 million of funding over three years. The funding was granted to provide the operator time to grow the service into a self sustaining operation.

A business case study showed the passenger train service injects more than $38 million annually into the region’s economy through property investment and tourism.