This may seem like a late post, but I was on vacation up north last week and just returned home yesterday.
Today marks exactly one week since the last RailMark operated passenger train departed northbound from Hawk Junction. About a week before, CN had terminated their relationship with RailMark effective July 15, and accordingly, on Monday July 13 the last northbound run departed Hawk Junction, with the equipment later moved to Sault Ste. Marie on July 14.
I already had vacation booked and had been planning a railfan tour of the former ACR and the Ontario Northland when this news broke. As it turned out, the day I had already planned to be in Wawa ended up being the day of the last northbound departure out of Hawk Junction, so I was able to catch the last departure. I didn’t end up scheduling in a ride, but I was at least able to photograph and see it off.
As an earlier post on this blog noted, for the last few weeks of service, the train was operating north of Hawk Junction only, with no service provided south of Hawk Junction, and occasionally erratic north of there.
The last run north on July 13 accordingly originated out of Hawk Junction yard where it had parked the night before. The engine uncoupled and ran around in order to be on the head end facing north and moved the train from its overnight storage location in one of the yard tracks over to the station platform to load passengers (3 or 4 people riding on a one-way ticket to Errington’s Wilderness Island Resort at Wabatong – planning to fly out later via float plane as there would be no more train service).
The last run would depart Hawk Junction, run as far as Oba only, runaround and return to Hawk that evening. The next day, the equipment was scheduled to head to Sault Ste. Marie, officially ending service.
In the wake of the service’s termination, everything just continues to give the impression of a huge mess. The EDC and passenger working group have indicating that they are trying to investigate other options to get the service running again. As RailMark was CN’s choice (from which the working group has tried to distance themselves), the city and working group publicly suggested that CN should step in to “clean up its mess” and operate the passenger service in the interim. CN for its part, has said they are not in a position to do so. Meanwhile, RailMark suggested a willingness to keep things going on a month-to-month agreement, even if another operator is ultimately chosen. The EDC rejected this proposal as unrealistic.
The impacts of the lost service and the finger-pointing and recriminations continue. Many blame RailMark of course, for not being able to prove they can run a proper service. Some blame CN for their choice of RailMark and question the due diligence , Some of the more conspiratorily-minded suggest it was CN’s plan all along to get rid of the passenger service without being the villain. For their part, just today RailMark fired back with a scathing missive against the city and the EDC, while admitting some mistakes on both sides, placing most of the blame squarely on bureaucratic rigidity and lambasting a “lack of leadership”, indicating that the line of credit which was a pre-condition of the agreement was difficult to obtain without the signed agreement, and suggesting that RailMark has become a convenient political scapegoat.
Here’s a few links to recent articles in the local media covering the ongoing situation:
- Mail Service to Oba in Doubt (Soo Today)
- Tourist operators prepare for impact of no train (Sault Star)
- Passenger Train Service: The Tourism Profit (Northern Hoot)
- Chamber wants system to avoid repeated disappointments (Soo Today)
- Sault – Hearst Passenger Service: Saved Third Time ‘Round the Track? (Northern Hoot)
- CN says “not in a position” to operate train (Sault Star)
- RailMark makes last-ditch pitch to keep Algoma Spirit alive (Soo Today)
- Passenger Rail Service SSM to Hearst: RailMark back in the Game? (Northern Hoot)
- RailMark pitch isn’t easy fix: Dodds (Sault Star)
- Deal or no Deal? (No Deal) (Soo Today)
- ACR stakeholders say “No deal” to RailMark (Sault Star)
- RailMark: “The blood is going to be on their hands, not mine” (Soo Today)