UPDATED: Canadian National sells branch rail lines, but not in Calumet or Manitowoc counties

Posted at 3:10 p.m. on Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Updated at 9:15 a.m. on March 31, 2021


The Brillion News


The Canadian National Railway has reached an agreement to sell key branch rail lines, including 650 miles of track in Wisconsin and upper Michigan, to logistics company Watco. “This is truly great news for Wisconsin. This announcement means not only continued freight rail service for Wisconsin’s Northwoods, but it also presents an opportunity to expand service,” Governor Tony Evers said. “That is especially good news for our Northwoods economy and the timber and paper industries that rely heavily on freight rail to connect to major ports and markets all over the world.”

Canadian National said it and Watco reached an agreement for the sale of non-core lines and assets on the Soo subdivision (approximately 250 miles of track) that runs from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to Oba, Ontario and approximately 650 miles of branch lines of Wisconsin Central Ltd. in Wisconsin and Michigan.


This marks the successful conclusion of the sale process that CN announced and launched in July of 2020. In Ontario, Watco will continue freight operations as well as the Agawa Canyon Train Tour. Watco has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Missanabie Cree First Nation regarding partnership opportunities for the Algoma Central Railway (ACR).

In both the United States and Ontario, CN will continue to play a central role as the transferred segments will remain connected to CN’s tri-coastal network, safely and reliably linking businesses to markets around the world.

The line connecting Manitowoc to Collins, Potter, Hilbert, Sherwood and Menasha will remain in the CN network, as will the line going south from Hilbert Junction to Chilton and beyond.

The terms of the agreement were not disclosed and the acquisition of the rail lines in the United States is subject to regulatory authorization by the Surface Transportation Board. In Wisconsin, nearly all rail lines are owned by private companies. Watco currently operates the Wisconsin and Southern Railroad (WSOR), which connects to the CN line and other Class I railroads.

The agreement does not affect the CN core lines - such as the main line between Sault Ste. Marie, Green Bay, Neenah, Fond du Lac and Milwaukee. That line includes service to Wrightstown.


This story will be expanded for the April 8 print edition of The Brillion News, including a map of the CN lines in Wisconsin, with those being retained by CN and those being sold at Watco identified.