ONTC assets 'exciting' for forward-looking investors

An economist in Sudbury is putting his money on the Canadian National Railway to snap up part of Ontario Northland.

Sudbury economist predicts CN Railway will be a main suitor for Ontario Northland

An economist in Sudbury is putting his money on the Canadian National Railway to snap up part of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

In March, the Ontario government announced the ONTC was losing too much money and said it would discontinue the Northlander passenger train service and sell off the rest.

Since then, about 30 investors have expressed interest in buying parts of the service.

The province is still readying Ontario Northland Rail for sale. Dozens of parties have already expressed an interest in buying it. (CBC)

Economist David Robinson said CN tried to buy the Northlander rail route in the early 2000s, but the province wanted a guarantee that no jobs would be lost.

"It's freight that you want, so CN didn't play that time," he said. "I'll give you ten-to-one CN is the main candidate [this time], because they stand to gain most."

Robinson noted there is a lot to gain in rail freight. With oil prices high and climbing — plus climate change opening up access to resources in the high arctic — ONTC rail assets are lucrative to those looking to the future, he added.

"This is exciting property in lots of ways, even though I don't think the province knows what to do with it," Robinson said. "And the province has admitted it doesn't know what to do with it."

Officials with the province said they are not accepting bids at this time, as they are in a pre-market stage and are busy creating profiles for each of the divisions that will be put up for sale.

The grand chief of the Mushkegowuk Council said some First Nations communities are considering putting a bid in.

Stan Louttit said no formal proposal has been put forward yet, but "there's individual communities within this area who are taking a look with great interest in terms of what the ONTC divestiture might be able to provide to them in terms of a business opportunity or an economic opportunity."

Louttit was not able to provide more details, such as which parts of the ONTC the First Nations groups are considering for purchase.