Algoma Central Service Gets Funding Extension

The Canadian government has extended its funding of rail passenger service on the former Algoma Central Railway between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ontario.

The service, which is being taken over by Railmark Holdings Inc., will receive $4.2 million over the next three years that was agreed upon in a last-minute decision. The money will be provided through the city of Sault Ste. Marie.

“This funding will give the city time to put in place a long-term solution for passenger rail service that provides access to established, year-round communities with few or no other transportation options,” said Bryan Hayes, a member of Parliament.

B. Allen Brown, Railmark’s president and CEO, said his company will replace Canadian National as the oprator of the service on May 1.

“Railmark has lined up experienced crews, and we have an agreement with CN to crew the train while Railmark crews are qualified (through April),” Brown says. “We could not even start the process until receipt of our Railway Operating Certificate and the notification of the government’s acceptance of Railmark’s plan.”

Railmark is planning station improvements at Sault Ste. Marie, Hawk Junction, and Searchmont. It also will add food and beverage service and increase baggage car capacity and more comfort for pets.

“We will also be offering dinner, entertainment, children’s and holiday trains beginning in August on weekends and will be re-launching the snow trains (next winter),” Brown said.

The train, which operates tri-weekly, currently has no food service. The schedule is to depart northbound from Sault Ste. Marie on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday at 9 a.m., and southbound from Hearst on Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday at 8 a.m.

The Agawa Canyon Tour Train will resume service during the third week of June. However, Brown said that service in 2016 will begin earlier.

Railmark is planning to add to the Agawa Canyon train dome cars, first-class cars, a “traditional chef-prepared dining car experience,” better use of the GPS-activated video screens, and more interactive activities onboard and at the Canyon turnaround stop.

It will also bring back the overnight “Camp Car” that will transform the Canyon station into an exhibit with First Nations interpretive history.

Plans for the Sault Ste. Marie station include creating two house tracks, a maintenance facility, and “a track for the inclusion of stationary sleepers to provide our guests with a train-themed overnight experience,” Brown said.

“Our five year plan moves the operation to financial sustainability while increasing tourism,” he said. “It will serve to demonstrate how to…significantly increase economic contributions of passenger trains. This will be a great model for all of North America to watch.”

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