Last week while in Sault Ste. Marie, Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau revoked the support of a subsidy for $5.3 million for passenger rail service.
Garneau told reporters that, “Most of the communities between the Sault and Hearst have other alternate ways of accessing highways.” Garneau said, “We have to reserve funding for where railways are the only way to move around.”
Today, Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) issued a media release and photos of the roads that Garneau was referring to.
The federal government’s recent decision to once again revoke the annual funding of the Algoma Central passenger train service between Sault-Ste-Marie & Hearst is a clear indication of the level of inequality between urban & remote transportation priorities in Canada.
All levels of government in Canada invest billions of dollars annually in public transportation infrastructure & services throughout the country. VIA Rail Canada, the nation’s ocial intercity passenger rail carrier, received 317.1 million dollars in operating funding & 80.9 million dollars in capital funding from the federal government in 2014. Metrolinx receives two billion dollars in base annual funding from the province. This crown corporation of the province of Ontario also benefits from an additional one to two billion dollars in combined funding from the federal & provincial government.
Unfair treatment to Northern Ontarians Northern Ontarians are however being held to a different standard than other Southern Ontarian & Canadian counterparts. Despite a collaborative effort by the various municipal & First Nations stakeholders of the Algoma Central working group to develop a not-for-profit transportation authority, the federal government is refusing to fund intercity passenger rail services between Sault Ste Marie, Hawk Junction & Hearst like it does throughout the rest of the country. Without any prior public consultation, the government eliminated the 2.2 million dollars of funding allocated to the Algoma Central once in 2014, and now for a second time in 2016.
Previously in 2012, the provincial government eliminated the Northlander between Toronto, North Bay & Cochrane. Similarly to the Algoma Central, the stakeholders of the region were not consulted when the province decided to eliminate the 11 million dollars that were dedicated annually to the operation of this essential intercity passenger train service.
In addition, VIA Rail’s own vision plan for 2016 to 2020 calls for a further reduction in service of the Canadian passenger train; rerouted between Sudbury, Chapleau, Thunder Bay, Dryden & Winnipeg. There is also no mention of a replacement train service between Capreol, Hornepayne, Longlac, Sioux Lookout & Winnipeg.
Train service essential to the region
As demonstrated in the NEORN’s submission to the Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Study (NOMTS) earlier this month (available here : http://neorn.ca/neorn-submission-to-nomts-soumission-de-neorn-a-letmno/), Northern Ontario has a road network that is increasingly fragile due to climate change, natural disasters & automobile collisions. Between 2011 & 2014, the Northeastern portion of the province experienced a total of 674 highway closures. With the lack of a grid-like road network as found in Southern Ontario, residents & travelers are simply unable to circumvent road closures due to accidents, weather related incidents, forest res, oods and in some instances, sink holes. As a consequence for a lack of road-based transportation alternatives, Northern Ontario communities are left with little to no transportation options when disaster strikes.
The current state of inequality between rural/remote & urban transportation infrastructure is unacceptable in a supposedly developed nation like Canada. As a result, residents of this region are faced with many barriers to employment, education, and access to health care.
Northern Ontario has a network of approximately 6,000 kilometres of rail interlinking a signifcant portion of municipalities and First Nations throughout the region on which passenger train service can be reinstated. There are a number of economic, environmental, practical, social and health factors that contribute to the importance of frequent and reliable passenger train service for communities, businesses and visitors looking to explore and travel great distances throughout the Cambrian Shield.
Utilizing the existing rail corridor infrastructure, the federal & provincial governments must provide equitable funding in passenger trains & corresponding motor coach / marine services in Northern Ontario. The federal government must also halt any current or future abandonment of rail corridors.
Transportation of minerals by rail is up to seven times more fuel ecient per ton/mile than by transport truck. Failure to maintain & preserve rail corridors like the Algoma Central will result in a lost opportunity for economic & environmentally sustainable modes of transportation for
current & future resource extraction (example : the Ring of Fire).
Many communities located along the Algoma Central Railway have no publicly maintained or industrial bush road access.
Photos courtesy: Maureen Elgie & Dawne Cunningham
NEORN Website: http://www.neorn.ca