$800K in provincial funding for railroad announced during election, NDP says millions more needed
Railway between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie was seeking $46 million in funding
It was a strange way to make a funding announcement.
On May 11, the three main party leaders were at a debate on northern Ontario issues in Parry Sound when New Democrat Andrea Horwath attacked the Liberal government for neglecting transportation infrastructure in the north.
"(A government) that's cut services, that got rid of the Northlander, that's standing by while we're about to lose a short rail line between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury," she said.
"That shortline Andrea," Liberal leader and sitting premier Kathleen Wynne answered back, "As recently as two months ago we put $800,000 into that shortline."
They were talking about the Huron Central, a freight railroad running on a CP shortline between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury.
Its main customers are Algoma Steel in the Sault, Domtar Paper in Espanola, Eacom Timber in Nairn Centre and Vale in Sudbury.
Last year, Huron Central threatened to shut down if it didn't get $46 million in government money to refurbish the tracks. The railroad made similar threats in 2009 before landing $30 million in provincial and federal funding.
The Ministry of Northern Development and Mines said that Huron Central is actually receiving $882,560 through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund to bring the tracks up to standard, while retaining "45 jobs in the area and creating 50 indirect jobs in construction."
The ministry also noted, contrary to the premier's remarks, that the railway has not yet received the funding.
Michael Mantha, the sitting MPP for Algoma-Manitoulin and the NDP candidate in the riding, was surprised by the news.
"Well, I'm not actually sure how the premier made this announcement, but what I can tell you is it falls short," he said.
The NDP northern platform includes giving Huron Central $4 million over five years as part of a rail strategy for the region that would also see the Northlander passenger service restored between Toronto and Cochrane.
It is a big investment, Mantha admits, but a small price to pay for preserving hundreds of jobs in the area, plus keeping more traffic off of Highway 17.
"The cost of investing in this short rail will save more dollars in the cost of maintaining our highways because the impact is going to be over 30,000 more transports who are going to be travelling on our roads. It's going to mean more possibilities for accidents, more dangerous goods on our roads," he said.
Calls and e-mails to Huron Central were not returned, but Mantha said he's heard the company has met with employees and painted a bleak picture of the future.
"Hopefully there is light at the end of the tunnel where there is going to be a different government," he said.
The Liberal party provided the following statement regarding the issue:
"The Ontario Liberal Party is committed to working with our northern partners. Our government has been working with the Huron Central Railway long before the NDP platform was released – and that's a fact."