The press releases just dropped this morning. CN has entered an agreement to sell the Algoma Central and various other ex-Wisconsin Central lines in Wisconsin and northern Michigan to Watco.
Interestingly, the announcement specifically references only “approximately 250 miles” from Sault Ste. Marie to Oba – the last section from Oba to Hearst is apparently not included. It’s being said that CN will continue to own and operate Oba to Hearst, presumably to hold on to ONR interchange traffic from Hearst.
Watco will take over freight traffic on the rest of the line (what little there is north of the Sault) and the release specifically mentions they will also be running the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, and has a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the local Missinaibee Cree regarding potential partnerships (i.e. potential reintroduction of passenger services with the “Bear Train”).
(If you haven’t heard of Watco before, they own and operate a number of shortlines in the US; mostly small obscure ones, with probably their most notable (and also somewhat relevant) property being the Wisconsin Southern (WSOR).)
No further details are available at this time, although the particularist in me is curious to see how certain things shape out.
In particular, I’d be curious to see what the map of ex-WC lines included in Wisconsin and Michigan looks like, and how Watco may organize everything into one or more railroads, and what names they’ll operate under. With Watco already owning WSOR, I could see some system integration and expansion happening there on connecting lines, and/or the creation of one or more new shortlines.
Presumably Watco would the new owner of the Algoma Central name, whether they would use the old AC reporting mark or have to acquire a new one is less clear right now – CN owns that mark, although they could easily transfer it. The question then revolves around existing equipment with AC marks – the passenger equipment for the tour train would almost certainly be included in the sale, and CN still owns around 150 or so pulpwood flatcars with AC reporting marks. Would this equipment get sold, or would CN have to renumber it to remove the AC mark?
I’m even more curious what name the US portions operate under, as Wisconsin Central is even more complicated with CN rostering quite a large amount of cars with WC reporting marks and lettering, as well as many leased cars leased via the WC subsidiary on paper. This makes the prospect of transferring WC name and reporting marks more complicated, so a resurrection of the Wisconsin Central under that name is probably less likely.
It’ll definitely be interesting to see what new or old names the new entity or entities operate under, and if we start seeing “new” (including new-old secondhand) rolling stock in the near future marked for these railroads.
Regardless, it appears a new chapter is now set to begin in the ACR’s history.
Edit: Watco posted this map of acquired lines today on their facebook page: