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Citizen's upset by cancellation of the Ontario Northlander

Sunday, September 30, 2012   by: Jamie LyleA sad and historic day brought to close a more than a hundred and ten year old train route at the station in North Bay.

The Ontario Northlander train had its final run on Friday, September 28th, 2012, being met by supporters, politicians and former employees as it came to the platform for the last time.

The announcement of the train's demise came Friday, March 23, 2012 as the McGuinty Government began the difficult task of managing its spiraling budget.

On the beautiful sunny day with the fall in almost full color, passengers young and old got to ride the rails one last time.

The day, understandably difficult for those losing their employment, also saw many retirees exceedingly concerned about their pensions and living arrangements as the ONTC becomes divested in what seems a deluge of unanswered questions about their future.

Pat Kemshall, a former ONR assistant chief train dispatcher who has since retired, is concerned not only about his pension, but the fact that the provincial government hasn't informed those living in the current ONR residences as to what will happen once the divestment process commences.

“They haven't said anything, so I'm certainly worried, like a lot of people,” Kemshall says.

A considerable number of elderly people were at the train station voicing concerns about the difficultly in their traveling via highway to necessities such as medical appointments, not to mention the difficulty harsh weather and long driving trips make for anyone, never mind those who may not be able to maintain a driver’s license.

Kempshall says he wonders how people who require the use of a wheelchair and those others who need assistance with walking will now be able to travel to Toronto for appointments.

“There's room enough to get around on a train, but not on a bus,” Kempshell says.

The logic or lack thereof behind the closing of the rail line seems too many; a major error in judgment with political representatives noting the cost of shipping goods to and from the North will become more expensive and undoubtedly result in higher consumer costs in a time when job losses in all sectors are affecting the area negatively.

“There is no rhyme nor reason for this, nothing that I can see,” says Mary Jones, a former ONR telephone operator.
"We need this, if they want us to grow," Jones says.
Of course, there were also business concerns pointing to economic factors that will impact the way this will hurt the North and the communities that rely on the train.

Eric Berger, a network architect for ONTERA, pointed to the many levels of regional and governmental bureaucracies that turned the ONTC into a cumbersome business model that had difficulties adapting and investing their energies into the profit rich avenues that were there.

“It really makes things difficult to do anything because you have so many layers to go through, and I don't think that the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines has ever really liked Ontario Northland,” says Berger.

Another interesting perspective came from Jennifer Scotland, a history student who, along with other student, attended the rally to collect information for her studies regarding the ONTC situation and its history and development in Northern Ontario.

“We're here to get firsthand experience of what's going on, how it's going to effect the workers and use the pictures and videos that we have in our presentation to get the message across to the students because they don't really know what's going on,” says Scotland.

Scotland says that she thinks it's a political move that will forever be removed from Northern Ontario's unique heritage and culture.

“I think it's terrible that they're taking this away because it created and established the North,” Scotland says.

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