In a few short days, the passenger train we know as the Northlander will be history, a victim of decades of shortsighted government policies that have not recognized that a fundamental necessity of a sustainable economy and culture is the ability to move people and goods efficiently, effectively and safely year-round. Rail is the most efficient, effective, and safest means of transportation for people and freight travelling medium to long distances especially in a region that has winter
The Northlander is a traditional passenger train that, with the decline in rail in Canada, has become a unique transportation service that has supported the economy of Northeastern Ontario for numerous decades but has been touted by the government as too costly for the number of patrons utilizing the service. Instead of looking into ways to increase ridership, the Queen's Park pundits have clearly neglected to undertake any examination of options that might augment the numbers. For example, adding a service from Sault Ste. Marie to Sudbury connecting at North Bay would have been one way to increase passengers, especially travelling to Toronto, or managing the bus service so short distance buses to more communities fed the train service instead of competing with the train service would have been another. And, the numbers being implied as the subsidized costs for the Ontario Northland are suspect at best.
In the south, Metrolinx connects numerous communities to Toronto with annual subsidies in the tens of millions. If this service is a necessity, then why can't it be expanded to include the North? There is no region like the North that has such a great need for a comprehensive rail passenger service that is more comfortable, and safer than bus service and less expensive than air. Long distances, increasing gas costs, need to reduce carbon emissions, and hazardous winter highway conditions are only a few of the justifications for such a service. Northerners should not be construed as 'second-class' citizens!
The economic spillover effects of cutting ONR passenger rail will be huge in Northeastern Ontario. One of the economic sectors that will be immediately affected will be tourism. Another is post-secondary education---attracting more students to our northern colleges and universities requires safe and affordable transportation. Most communities in Northeastern Ontario have policies to encourage more immigrants and people from southern Ontario to move here. Rail connectivity to the south should be paramount for the success of such plans.
The selling off of Ontario Northland Transportation Commission will eliminate most of the rail component of the Ontario Government's Northern Growth Plan's multi-modal transportation infrastructure strategy. Our national service, VIA Rail, has seen its budget cut substantially by the Federal Government and this will also impact on the North. Even with the transcontinental Canadian's limited schedule, it services the least populated regions of the North. This is also unfair and the North will suffer even more.
The divestiture of the Ontario Northland will undoubtedly mean the loss of hundreds of jobs and the uprooting of families. At a time when job numbers in the Province are a major concern, is this a good undertaking? What about the jobs and the dollars that would have been invested in the City of North Bay had the Province given the mega dollar refurbishing contract for GO Transit cars to the ONR shops instead of outsourcing it to a Québec firm. One can only surmise that this latter decision was made to further abase the Ontario Northland situation.
Don't forget the investment we taxpayers have already made for this service. Passenger rail service is being increased in southern Ontario and the fares are dropping. We understand that the government is in a hard place with the economy right now, but that will be made worse by cutting our publicly owned transportation institution. Don't let down the north; instead, improve and increase the passenger rail service with a good train schedule and you will see strong usage.
Unless the decision is reversed, the 28th of September will be a sad day for many northerners and one that will not be forgotten lightly.
For further information contact: Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) co-chairs Al Errington (705-946-2010) and Marie Price (705 736 2365).