New option comes forward as potential closure of Huron Central Rail looms
SUDBURY -- As the days tick by to what could be the end of the Huron Central Railway, a Sudbury businessman is coming forward to breathe new life into the important rail corridor.
Milad Mansour is the president and founder of Milman Industries who has expressed serious interest in taking over the railway line, which provides important freight deliveries to many large companies in between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie.
The Huron Central Railway is currently owned by Genesee & Wyoming, a U.S. short line railroad holding company. The company has said that it needs approximately $40 million in funding from the government in order to meet the required maintenance demands. If it is unsuccessful, the line is set to cease operations on Dec. 18.
However, this is not the first time such a request has been made.
"To make stability in the north because we need a northern Ontario solution and those people don’t provide a solution," Mansour said. "The only providing is the asking, 'we need this and we need that, without the government, we cannot do the business.'"
Over the years, there have been many funding requests. The province provided nearly $1 million in 2018 and back in 2010, a similar deal to what is now being requested was made between both levels of government.
"Now, they are coming back to us 10 years later for another $40 million of investment," said liberal Nickel Belt MP Marc Serre. "Genese & Wyoming is owned by Brookfield, one of the largest infrastructure-equity firms in Canada, so they've got deep pockets. So there's alarm bells from a government perspective that is challenging federally and provincially to be looking at supporting a company like this."
Genesee & Wyoming leases the line from Canadian Pacific Railway (CP Rail).
After finding out there was a northern solution coming forward by Mansour, Serre put the Sudbury businessman in contact with Minister of Transportation Marc Garneau’s office. Serre stressed that it is crucial a solution is found, saying jobs are on the line.
"I strongly believe there is a northern Ontario solution to this issue, but CP needs to come to the table and support a northern Ontario solution. Because if they don't, it's very difficult for either provincially or federally to support a northern Ontario company when they are on a CP rail bed that they don’t have an agreement with," said Serre.
Mansour said that he is ready to take over the line immediately, but that constructive conversations cannot happen while the standing contract between CP Rail and Genesee & Wyoming remains.
The operations would be possible through his subsidiary companies, including Diesel Electric Services. Jason Carriere, the company's vice president, said there are already expansion plans should their attempts to take over the line be proven successful.
"One of the things we do here in Sudbury is take care of VIA Rail passenger train," said Carriere. "Many years ago, there used to be passenger service between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, and we think we’d play an integral part in bringing that service back."
One of the companies that currently rely on the line is Eacom Timber Corporation, which said it first learned of the seriousness of the potential closure in Sept.
"It’s very important for our Nairn Centre operations, actually for input and output, we’re using it for both ways," said Jean Brodeur, the director of communications for Eacom Timber Corporation. "So, it would have an economic and financial impact for sure."
While Brodeur said that the company would be able to get by on truck shipments should the rail line cease operations, he said it is a relief there is another option coming forward.
"That’s good news," said Brodeur. "It gives us options. Obviously, we have contingencies in place. If there’s another operator willing to come in and operate the railway, that’s great news for us."
In a statement to CTV News, Genesee & Wyoming said that it is hopeful to reach an agreement between the federal and provincial governments by the end of the year.
"The company submitted a co-investment proposal to both the federal and provincial governments and have worked hard to minimize the funding requested of government and maximize the contribution from Genesee & Wyoming to ensure core requirements to rehabilitate the railway are met," said the company. "We have also been in discussion with both governments on a short-term solution that would fund the first year of the plan while all parties continue to work on the necessary longer-term solution."