ACR for Sale: Confirmed

So the last post about the ACR possibly being for sale involved a bit of inference and guess work from the information in the news about “certain lines in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario” from “mostly ex Wisconsin Central” trackage being put up for sale this year, and the general state of CN’s operations on the ACR (nothing’s run between Sault Ste. Marie and Hawk Junction since April).

Local news sources are now reporting they have confirmation from CN this week that the line is in fact for sale and they’ve been in contact with interested parties (although they will not comment further on that as those business negotiations or arrangements are currently in progress).

CN To Sell Algoma Central Railway: Report [SooToday]

Northeastern railway updates: CN to sell ACR, Huron Central gets six-month reprieve [Manitoulin Expositor]

Meanwhile, Huron Central has been doing it’s regular poverty dance, and had been threatening to discontinue operations as of the end of this week, but has agreed to another six months of operation, but are looking for $44million in funding
(mostly from federal and provincial governments) to do maintenance on the line to keep it running.

Millman Industries of Sudbury (which owns Diesel Electric Services) has been indicating an interest in taking over Huron Central if Genesee & Wyoming Canada pulls out, but it’ll be interesting to see how things all shake out with both the Algoma Central, the Huron Central, and likely also the ex SOO/WC CN line coming into the Sault from Michigan over the next year or so. Hopefully we are looking at the start of a new chapter in the ACR’s history, and not a “last chapter”.

The sale of course also leaves large question marks hanging over the Agawa Canyon Tour Train operation – but a lot of money was also just spent this year to construct a brand new station for the tour train over at the former paper mill property redevelopment. The track beyond the mill property now terminates short of the road heading past the power generating station to the park around the historic canal and boat lock, and no longer goes to the old station in the Station Mall parking lot.

ACR on the Chopping Block?

(Note that this posting contains a LOT of supposition.)

Last week Trains magazine put out a news item indicating that CN plans to sell off a fair bit of low density branch lines in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ontario:

TRAINS: CN to sell 850 miles of low-density lines in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ontario

While the article text is behind subscriber access, the sub heading implies that most of the trackage is low traffic ex-Wisconsin Central lines, and while it’s absolutely not made clear what any of the individual lines are, it doesn’t take much supposition to guess that the former Algoma Central trackage is at least a candidate to be included in the “Ontario” part of this collection, with very few on-line customers other than the Essar Steel Algoma mill in the Sault other than a few pulpwood logging operations.

I’ve also been told by local sources that CN is currently not even operating trains between Sault Ste. Marie and Hawk Junction, only operating between Hawk and Hearst to handle bridge traffic between the interchanges/junctions at Hearst, Oba, and Franz. (I’ve been seeing some AC/WC pulpwood cars routing through southern Ontario recently as well which is a fairly new thing – probably taking the long way around to Wisconsin/Michigan with the south end of the ACR not operating.)

On the other hand, the new ferrochrome smelter for the “Ring of Fire” project chose Sault Ste. Marie as the location for construction, and while that won’t be built for a couple years yet, losing rail access to the Sault would be a major problem for that project.

Will have to watch what happens with this one, potentially big changes in the Algoma region. Speculation abounds: Will CN attempt to abandon the line if no buyers found? Will they soldier on? Will Ontario Northland be interested? (Probably the best case for the line, but will ONTC go for it?) Will some other shortline company make a go? (G&W comes to mind, but they’re already claiming poverty on the operations of the Huron Central and threatening to walk away from that one without financial support for track upgrade/maintenance.) Will local interests try to put something together to save the line, similar to what they’re trying to do with the regular Hearst passenger train? (Although this has been dragging on seemingly unsuccessfully for several years now.) And of course, what impact will this have on the popular Agawa Canyon Tour Train? (although cancelled this year because of the pandemic.) Apparently a new station was just built by the old paper mill as part of the redevelopment of that district. Could a new operator other than CN actually be a boon to passenger service restoration if freight and passenger can be operated as a cohesive entity?

Lots to see, and nothing will happen quickly…