The deadline for new proposals for operating the Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst passenger service has arrived and the local Sault Star newspaper is reporting on their web site that three proposals have been submitted, with a possible fourth to come from a late arrival to the process:
After the first attempt at finding an operator which led to the selection of RailMark Inc., which for several complicated reasons did not end well, it appears that this time the working group will have all proposals reviewed by a third party consultant to compare the submitted proposals to the information contained in the RFP (Request for Proposals) and also do additional background checking of each company.
Once the proposals have been compared, they will then be reviewed by the stakeholder group and CN. Obviously CN, as the owner of the tracks, will have to provide their approval of the operator, and the group hopes to have the city’s nod as well, as the administrator of the federal funding, before a selected proposal is submitted to Transport Canada for approval. With a federal election and possible changes in the government just weeks away, it’s expected that such a submission will occur after the October election.
The article notes that some of the pre-conditions for approval (which RailMark notably failed to meet) will be the same this time around.
It’s also noted that the proposals at this time are strictly for the regular passenger service, not the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, which CN has continued to operate this season, but is entertaining offers/proposals for that service as well. The article mentions that it is unknown whether CN has received any interest for the tour train, but the benefits of the same operator running both the regular train and tour train are obvious, as the two services can share equipment and connect the services in other ways as well. (Until last year CN offered a combo package with the Tour of the Line where you could ride the Agawa Canyon Tour Train to Canyon park, enjoy the park for a while and get picked up by the northbound regular train to continue the Tour of the Line experience. When I rode the train to Hearst in 2013, I just rode the regular train as the Canyon train was sold out, but my friend that I travelled with, having booked earlier, was able to take advantage of this deal.)
Anyway, we’ll see what develops out of the proposals. Hopefully for all concerned it works out this time. While communities, private cottage and camp owners and tourist outfitters and resort/lodge owners have certainly hurt from the cessation of service, it’s worth remembering that whatever issues there were, RailMark also lost huge when they got forced out due to the lack of financing after operating for several months at a total loss. I think it’s in everyone’s best interest to have *all* the ducks in a row on this.