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Watco sets startup dates for former CN lines in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario

By Bill Stephens | January 25, 2022

New operations set to begin Jan. 29, Feb. 1

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Map of Watco linces purchased from CN
Map of Watco linces purchased from CN
Watco will begin operating ex-CN lines in the next week, as show in this map released when the sale was announced in March 2021.  (Watco)

Watco short line railroads will begin operating former Canadian National branches in the Badger State, the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and Ontario in the next week.

On Jan. 29, Watco will begin operations on the 328.5-mile Fox Valley & Lake Superior in Wisconsin, as well as the 142.6 miles of trackage on the Upper Peninsula that will be added to the company’s existing Michigan-based Grand Elk Railroad.

The Fox Valley & Lake Superior will have 54 employees and 17 locomotives, including a dozen GP38s, four SD40s, and one GP15, Watco spokesman Tracie VanBecelaere says.

Grand Elk’s operations on the Upper Peninsula will be based in Newberry, Mich., with five employees and a pair of GP38s for power.

The 250-mile Algoma Central will begin operations under Watco management on Feb. 1. The railroad – Watco’s first in Canada – will employ 27 people. Motive power will include six SD40-2s and a pair of GP40-3s.

In addition to Algoma Central freight service between Sault Ste. Marie and Oba, Watco aims to reinstate the scenic passenger rail service that runs through Agawa Canyon.

Including trackage that’s out of service in Wisconsin and Michigan, the rail lines consist of nearly 900 miles of track serving more than 90 customers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. The lines handle a range of commodities including packaging and paper products, lumber and building materials, metals, minerals, agriculture products, and chemicals.

CN and Watco announced the sale of the branches in March 2021. Normally the sale of Class I branches to a short line operator are exempt from regulatory review. But the CN-Watco deal was delayed while the Surface Transportation Board weighed concerns raised by a handful of shippers and groups in Wisconsin and Michigan. The board on Dec. 20 allowed the deal to proceed.

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