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295 Meetings
The next meeting of Division 295 will be held on March 14th at 19:00.

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Published: September 17th 2009
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HURON CENTRAL RAILWAY: Groups look for long-term solution to short-line service

Meetings are on track this week to find a long-term rail operator to ensure service between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.

CAO Joe Fratesi, who is leading the group, said a smaller working group met Tuesday and the larger committee of about 45 stakeholders met Wednesday for a progress report.

As lawyers continue to finalize the one-year agreement that will see Huron Central Railway continue its operations until next August with financial assistance from the federal and provincial governments and the two major users of the line, steps are being taken to look beyond next summer.

An application has been filed on behalf of Huron Central Rail, or its successor operator for federal stimulus program funding of $12.012 million.

That's the amount of work that can "realistically" be done to meet the stimulus funding application criteria before the March 2011 deadline, Fratesi said.

The application is based on a 90 per cent contribution divided equally between the federal and provincial governments and 10 per cent contribution by Huron Central.

It's expected work will have to be done between early spring and later fall, due to the nature of weather in the area.

The group will also ensure it has a commitment from CP Rail to enter into a long-term contract with Huron Central Rail or another acceptable short-line operator.

At the same time, Fratesi said a consultant will be hired to develop the terms and criteria for a request for proposal seeking a long-term operator of the rail line.

It's expected the request for proposal could be issued sometime in October. It will be looking for an operator willing to run the line for 20 years, leased by CP Rail.

Huron Central has the first right to put forth a proposal that could lead to a long-term agreement to operate the railway under a new lease agreement with CP Railway.

Fratesi said that proposal would have to be presented to the committee before the end of October.

It's expected that any proposal -- Huron Central Rail or any other interested proponent -- will include a requirement that the infrastructure needs to be improved.

Any future operator would also have to meet the criteria of CP Railway and the higher levels of government to be eligible for infrastructure improvement money.

Fratesi said the remaining $22 million needed for the infrastructure upgrades will be submitted soon under a Communities Infrastructure Program.

"Time doesn't allow us to take this one step at a time. We have to do several functions at one time," Fratesi said.

Sault MP Tony Martin, who participated in Tuesday's meeting, said North-ern Ontario New Democrats are pushing for a pan-Northern solution with expanded passenger and freight rail service taking a central role.

He said he will continue pushing for federal economic stimulus money for rail and wants to see the return of passenger rail service to Northern Ontario. It believes passenger service would boost regional tourism, help industry, health care and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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