Mushkegowuk Ring of Fire plan attracts railroader interest – by Ian Ross (Northern Ontario Business – February 3, 2015)

Established in 1980, Northern Ontario Business provides Canadians and international investors with relevant, current and insightful editorial content and business news information about Ontario’s vibrant and resource-rich North. Ian Ross is the editor of Northern Ontario Business

The Mushkegowuk Council’s conceptual plan for a Ring of Fire railway, power corridor and James Bay port took a strange twist with possible partnership talk involving a private railway company with a keen eye on buying the Ontario Northland Railway.

Mushkegowuk Grand Chief Lawrence Martin caused a media stir at a Jan. 22 energy conference in Timmins when he told reporters that his northeastern Ontario tribal council was considering teaming up with TGR Rail to extend rail service to the coast and into the Ring of Fire.

TGR, a Toronto-based rail services company, claims it has the financing and the team in place to acquire and expand the rail assets of the North Bay-based Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC).

The company contacted Mushkegowuk last year when the tribal council on the eastern side of the Ring of Fire began floating the idea of an energy infrastructure corridor.

It calls for a multi-use easement corridor of power, fibre optic and rail links that would provide all-season access and grid-based electricity to isolated communities and the remote mineral deposits with a connection to a proposed saltwater port to move chromite ore to the coast.

But in an oddly written news release, TGR proclaimed it had already reached a “landmark breakthrough” for the Ring of Fire with a proposal on the table to begin negotiations with Mushkegowuk on a potential partnership to finance, build and operate a 410-kilometre railway.

The release contained quotes pulled from a Timmins media report in which Martin spoke of TGR’s queries on leasing land from the council and a promise to give Mushkegowuk an ownership stake in the railway.

TGR chairman Ron Dancey was quoted as saying his company had the capital to upgrade the Ontario Northland and promised competitive freight rates for the mining companies.

The company’s pronouncement was quickly dismissed by Northern Development and Mines Minister Michael Gravelle and Ontario Northland management who stated the Ontario Northland isn’t for sale and “will remain in public hands.”

Dancey was unavailable for comment. TGR president Kevin Street was vague in discussing his company’s capabilities, clients, financial backers, and whether they had the expertise to take on a project on this scale.

“There are a number of financiers involved,” he said. “We do a little bit of everything. There’s a great deal that goes into railway operations from the training to paperwork to maintenance (and) there’s financing. We have a team of great expertise in the industry and we’re privileged to have them.”

The company website presents itself as providing contract track maintenance, switching, safety training, engineering and construction.

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