Government still has role to play in transition of ACR passenger services: Hughes

Ottawa – The agreement that will have Railmark Canada take control of passenger services on the Algoma-Central-Railway has great potential to keep passenger trains running for years, according to Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes.

“This is a positive development, but it is obvious the company sees a limited role for the federal government as necessary to transition from subsidy to independence,” said Hughes.  “It has been clear from day one that there will be a role for the government to address a problem they created in the first place.”

Hughes lauded the efforts of the working group, which included multiple stakeholders, for playing an essential role in the process that ultimately attracted Railmark to the ACR.

“I don’t think we would be talking about passenger services in anything but the past tense if there wasn’t such a strong and motivated group driving this process,” said Hughes. “That said, it looks as if we will still have to impress upon the government the need for it to maintain a role in the transition away from subsidy.”

Hughes said that despite the potential for a long-term solution, businesses and communities that rely on passenger rail are concerned about the optics of an unknown federal commitment that is approaching the eleventh hour for the second year running.

“I am hearing that the lack of certainty is affecting bookings since tourists are not happy to put a down payment on a vacation they aren’t sure they will be able to take,” said Hughes.  “Travel by train to a remote location is appealing to many tourists, but they are hearing the option is a ‘maybe’ because the government is waiting to decide about this for the second year in a row.”

Railmark is asking the government to contribute 7 million dollars over 5 years to arrive at the point where they envision a subsidy-free long-term operation. 

“The amount is less than half of what the government would have been paying under that old arrangement and will protect a significant passenger rail economy and hundreds of jobs that rely on it in the process,” said Hughes.  “We still have work to do until the government signs on, but I think this is a positive development.”