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…

8 thoughts on “ACR on the Chopping Block?

  1. OK, now I’ve got something else to be depressed about.
    OTOH, my home layout, the Algoma & Northland Rwy, is conceived of as the result of a merger (geographically based on the ACR, but I love the ONR paint schemes too much not to have their power). It would very cool if someone could make the North Bay-Soo-Hearst-Cochrane “square” work as one operation.

  2. Sad news indeed! I was hoping to ride the Agawa Canyon train one more time, but that may never happen. Do you know if they still have passenger service from Soo all the way to Hearst?

    • The passenger service was last run in fall 2014, and I am heartily glad that I did that run on the way to the CARM convention in Thunder Bay. And now I’m also glad that we stopped for a day on the way home from camping at Neys last August to do the Canyon trip again. In all our times across the Montreal Falls trestle, we had taken a zillion photos of the downstream side (because that’s the “view”) but none of the headpond. But I needed the upstream view to compose the backdrop for the dam scene on my layout. So this time we sat on the east side of the train, and shot continuous pictures of it, both going up and coming back. Who knows if it will ever be possible to do that again?

    • So, re: the Agawa Canyon Tour Train, the railway has just built a brand new station for the tour train over by the old St Marys Paper mill site, and the track beyond Mill St. down to the 1970s station at the Station Mall has been pulled up. When the Canyon Tour train does start up again it will be operating from this new location. Moving the train departure over to this site has been discussed over the last year or two, but I just saw these photos this week on facebook.

      So they are definitely anticipating that the tour train will be running for some time yet with this investment.

  3. Another amazing piece of our Algoma history possibly gone, ACR was an everyday sight in my life from a child growing up in Wawa Ontario and l when I was learning my trade in the forestry industry around Hawk and at the Limer and Perry sidings. Even spent a lot of time at the old Tremblay flats siding as a youngster. Going to be a very sad day when it is gone completely

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