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Last run of the "Algoma Spirit" a.k.a. the regular passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst on the former Algoma Central Railway.

In the late spring of 2015, the regular passenger service on the former ACR was transferred to new operator RailMark Canada. For a while, trains were operated under RailMark's management using manpower provided by CN paid for and contracted to RailMark while they hired their own crews. In mid June, RailMark took full control of the operation with their own personnel, and almost immediately problems cropped up with the service drastically deteriorating until CN pulled the plug on their relationship with RailMark effective June 15, 2015.

A timeline of RailMark's tenure goes something like this:

January 24, 2014 Local communities are quietly notified that the federal subsidy to the passenger rail service will be cut, and as a result, CN will end operation of the passenger train as of March 31, 2015.

February 14, 2014 CN announces a 4-week extension to April 29, 2014

April 14, 2014 Transport Canada announces a one-year extension to the federal subsidy, to the end of March 2015, in order to give local stakeholders time to evaluate options and propose an alternative solution. Over the next year, a working group is formed to study and lobby for the service, and due to CN's desire to get out of the passenger business, look for alternative operators for the service.

March 31, 2015 On the very last day before CN was slated to discontinue operation, Transport Canada officially announces a new three-year subsidy deal with a new operator, RailMark (although the name of the operator had slipped out about a week earlier when it was revealed they were looking to hire train service personnel in the Sault Ste. Marie area). The funding package is set up in such a way that the city of Sault Ste. Marie will act as trustee to manage the subsidy and have local accountability for the new operator, which has yet to prove their track record - indeed, their record so far seems to consist mainly of other failed tourist trains, a red flag to many, including this photographer. CN will continue to operate the train under the old subsidy agreement until the end of April to give RailMark time to get ready. (It should be noted that RailMark is apparently selected by CN from three qualified bids.)

May 1, 2015 The first day of RailMark's operation of the train, but the train does not run. RailMark's president will cite the lack of a signed agreement yet with the city for the provided funding.  One major pre-condition that the city's Economic Development Corporation has recommended is RailMark being able to prove a certain financial ability to maintain an operation, in the form of appropriate insurance and financing in the form of an available line of credit covering up to three months of operating costs. RailMark has succeeded in obtaining a required operating certificate from Transport Canada and the required insurance but cannot yet show they have the available financing.

May 7, 2015 The first northbound train under RailMark's management leaves Sault Ste. Marie, with only a single passenger as no one knows it is actually running. The agreement is still unsigned, but RailMark goes ahead in good faith. Crews and personnel are provided by CN and paid for by RailMark.

June 16, 2015 The first day of 100% RailMark operation with their own crew. The train apparently makes it as far as Mead (approximately 25 miles south of Hearst) before the crew hits their hours of service limit and the train is halted there.

June 17, 2015 The southbound train does not run at all. Many passengers are left stranded. There are allegations of a rules violation the day before and an investigation. RailMark has only the single crew available, so service is effectively brought to a crashing halt for the duration of the investigation. The crew is apparently cleared of any wrongdoing, but service is disrupted for almost an entire week. The passenger equipment is towed to Sault Ste. Marie by the freight train at some point during the week.

June 22, 2015 At a meeting of the Sault Ste. Marie city council, the EDC recommends not signing the funding agreement with RailMark, as they have still failed to meet the pre-conditions for the agreement, i.e. being able to show adequate operational financing with an available line of credit.

June 25, 2015 The train makes its first run north from Sault Ste. Marie since the disruption, but only as far as Hawk Junction. From this point forward, the train will operate north of Hawk Junction only, providing NO service south of Hawk, and erratic service between Hawk and Hearst, with the train on some days turning at Oba and not running the full way. Eventually CN will announce it is terminating its relationship with RailMark as of July 15.

July 13, 2015 The last northbound train leaves Hawk Junction. It will run as far as Oba and return to Hawk Junction later in the evening. The next day the equipment is brought down to Sault Ste. Marie apparently as a dead head move, bringing passenger service on the ACR to an ignominious end.

I happened to already have vacation in the north planned, and by coincidence it just happened that the day I would be in the Wawa area turned out to be the day of the last run. Here the crew (who unfortunately it would seem would now be out of a job) poses just before departure for a photo by a representative of the local Wawa News, standing to my right.

Shortly after the train departs, a brief but rather wet rainstorm puts an appropriate punctuation to a black day for northern rail transportation.
Copyright Notice: This image ©Chris van der Heide all rights reserved.



Caption:

Last run of the "Algoma Spirit" a.k.a. the regular passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst on the former Algoma Central Railway.

In the late spring of 2015, the regular passenger service on the former ACR was transferred to new operator RailMark Canada. For a while, trains were operated under RailMark's management using manpower provided by CN paid for and contracted to RailMark while they hired their own crews. In mid June, RailMark took full control of the operation with their own personnel, and almost immediately problems cropped up with the service drastically deteriorating until CN pulled the plug on their relationship with RailMark effective June 15, 2015.

A timeline of RailMark's tenure goes something like this:

January 24, 2014 Local communities are quietly notified that the federal subsidy to the passenger rail service will be cut, and as a result, CN will end operation of the passenger train as of March 31, 2015.

February 14, 2014 CN announces a 4-week extension to April 29, 2014

April 14, 2014 Transport Canada announces a one-year extension to the federal subsidy, to the end of March 2015, in order to give local stakeholders time to evaluate options and propose an alternative solution. Over the next year, a working group is formed to study and lobby for the service, and due to CN's desire to get out of the passenger business, look for alternative operators for the service.

March 31, 2015 On the very last day before CN was slated to discontinue operation, Transport Canada officially announces a new three-year subsidy deal with a new operator, RailMark (although the name of the operator had slipped out about a week earlier when it was revealed they were looking to hire train service personnel in the Sault Ste. Marie area). The funding package is set up in such a way that the city of Sault Ste. Marie will act as trustee to manage the subsidy and have local accountability for the new operator, which has yet to prove their track record - indeed, their record so far seems to consist mainly of other failed tourist trains, a red flag to many, including this photographer. CN will continue to operate the train under the old subsidy agreement until the end of April to give RailMark time to get ready. (It should be noted that RailMark is apparently selected by CN from three qualified bids.)

May 1, 2015 The first day of RailMark's operation of the train, but the train does not run. RailMark's president will cite the lack of a signed agreement yet with the city for the provided funding. One major pre-condition that the city's Economic Development Corporation has recommended is RailMark being able to prove a certain financial ability to maintain an operation, in the form of appropriate insurance and financing in the form of an available line of credit covering up to three months of operating costs. RailMark has succeeded in obtaining a required operating certificate from Transport Canada and the required insurance but cannot yet show they have the available financing.

May 7, 2015 The first northbound train under RailMark's management leaves Sault Ste. Marie, with only a single passenger as no one knows it is actually running. The agreement is still unsigned, but RailMark goes ahead in good faith. Crews and personnel are provided by CN and paid for by RailMark.

June 16, 2015 The first day of 100% RailMark operation with their own crew. The train apparently makes it as far as Mead (approximately 25 miles south of Hearst) before the crew hits their hours of service limit and the train is halted there.

June 17, 2015 The southbound train does not run at all. Many passengers are left stranded. There are allegations of a rules violation the day before and an investigation. RailMark has only the single crew available, so service is effectively brought to a crashing halt for the duration of the investigation. The crew is apparently cleared of any wrongdoing, but service is disrupted for almost an entire week. The passenger equipment is towed to Sault Ste. Marie by the freight train at some point during the week.

June 22, 2015 At a meeting of the Sault Ste. Marie city council, the EDC recommends not signing the funding agreement with RailMark, as they have still failed to meet the pre-conditions for the agreement, i.e. being able to show adequate operational financing with an available line of credit.

June 25, 2015 The train makes its first run north from Sault Ste. Marie since the disruption, but only as far as Hawk Junction. From this point forward, the train will operate north of Hawk Junction only, providing NO service south of Hawk, and erratic service between Hawk and Hearst, with the train on some days turning at Oba and not running the full way. Eventually CN will announce it is terminating its relationship with RailMark as of July 15.

July 13, 2015 The last northbound train leaves Hawk Junction. It will run as far as Oba and return to Hawk Junction later in the evening. The next day the equipment is brought down to Sault Ste. Marie apparently as a dead head move, bringing passenger service on the ACR to an ignominious end. I happened to already have vacation in the north planned, and by coincidence it just happened that the day I would be in the Wawa area turned out to be the day of the last run. Here the crew (who unfortunately it would seem would now be out of a job) poses just before departure for a photo by a representative of the local Wawa News, standing to my right. Shortly after the train departs, a brief but rather wet rainstorm puts an appropriate punctuation to a black day for northern rail transportation.

Photographer:
Chris van der Heide [179] (more) (contact)
Date: 07/13/2015 (search)
Railway: Canadian National (search)
Reporting Marks: CN 4739 (search)
Train Symbol: CN P631 (search)
Subdivision/SNS: Hawk Junction (search)
City/Town: Hawk Junction (search)
Province: Ontario (search)
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Photo ID: 18677

Map courtesy of Open Street Map

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3 Comments
  1. Chris, it is fantastic that you were there for this moment – thanks for sharing. I hope that this is not the last train, and cooler heads will eventually prevail.

    This article summarizes Railmarks position, and it’s an interesting read. Ultimately, Railmark has spent $350k operating the train so far.

    http://www.sootoday.com/content/news/details.asp?c=95196

    Is it safe to say, based on what I’ve read that CN continues to operate the Canyon Tour Train and have they always operated it? Railmark did not operate this train yet? That’s one item I’m not totally clear on. I’m under the impression this may continue as CN until the federal contract per upgrades to equipment is completed and/or handed to a third party operator.

  2. Yes, the Canyon Tour Train is being operated by CN this year, and still going for now.

  3. Great shot. The circumstances of this operation are quite sad. I hope an operator can be found to commence passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst again.

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