A Town Hall meeting that was packed to capacity in the Russ Ramsay Room of City Hall took place on Tuesday, November 1st, 2016. The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Train (C.A.P.T.) town hall meeting drew a substantial crowd, becoming standing room only.
Members of C.A.P.T. and a recently formed working group to bring back rail service along the Sault to Hearst, Ontario corridor, shared updates, and invited comments and suggestions from citizens concerned for the future of the iconic northern rail line.
“We learned today that, through INAC (Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada), we are receiving $200,000 to support a business plan for the Algoma Passenger Train.” said Al Errington, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains. “A recent meeting with INAC went very well and we felt very supported. They are interested in First Nation led economic development.”
Chief Jason Gauthier, Missanabie Cree First Nation, Chair of the Algoma Passenger Train working group, told saultonline, “The working group was put together to get the train back up and running and to consult with all the stakeholders involved. The working group is specific to a proposed ‘Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban’ or ‘Bear Train’. The $200,000 announced (Tuesday,Nov.1,2016) from INAC, will help us with continued engagement with both INAC and CN Rail. Our goal is to get the business plan finished and get the’ Bear Train’ up and running, in consultation with CN Rail.”
“The working group met in mid October 2016 with INAC.” said Chief Gauthier at the Town Hall meeting. “We had positive discussions with them about some of their ideas on how the train can transform into economic development opportunities for First Nations. We’re going to continue to approach both (federal) Ministries (Transport Canada and INAC) to make sure that they hear about the importance of this line. We’re trying to find lots of different, imaginative ways to keep this rail line going. Our relationship with CN is much better than it ever has been. CN has committed to working with Fist Nations directly.” he said. “We have sent letters of request to meet with the Prime Minister on this matter.”
In July, 2016, Federal Minister of Transport, Marc Garneau announced that the passenger rail line between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, Ontario did not meet eligibility requirements defined as ‘remote access’.
“We thought that we were within two weeks of having an agreement with CN, and without warning, Transport Canada announced they were not supporting funding for the passenger train.” he said
In the wake of Transport Canada’s decision to pull funding, two appeal letters were sent to PM Justin Trudeau. 22 Federal Ministries were also included as recipients of the letters.
“Our relationship with CN is very good. Conversations with CN and other parties have been extremely encouraging.” said Errington. “Nothing is going to happen quickly, unless Transport Canada comes to their senses, on the legitimate issue of access to remote communities and the needs of residents along the rail corridor.” he said. “They have said that they have no funding to support the Algoma passenger train, however they have committed to looking and facilitating funding from other Ministries.”
The working group and C.A.P.T. are currently working on identifying cluster areas along the northern rail line that can be identified as ‘communities’. They are asking for people who have properties, camps and residences to contact C.A.P.T. so that a comprehensive list can be developed.(captrains.ca)
“We are residents of these communities. We have to make Transport Canada understand that we are communities.” said Len Piccolo, spokesperson for The Mask-Wa Residents Association.
“It’s difficult to reach out to individual owners because there is no master list.” said Piccolo. “Most of the residences in these remote areas along the A.C.R. corridor have several people who use the residence. All of these areas should qualify as remote ‘communities’.”
‘Most passengers have no other way to travel to their properties and businesses. 400 km of the 470 km Algoma rail line is not accessible by public road. For the few people who have found alternate ways to access their residences, those alternatives, such as logging roads, are not reliable, safe or year round. People have been injured and/or had their vehicles badly damaged on the logging roads. Logging roads are only maintained when and if logging companies need them. The Algoma passenger train has been the only safe, affordable, all-season access into the Algoma wilderness rail corridor for over 100 years.’ (change.org)
“We are re-describing this effort as communities because we really are permanent communities. We’re communities within communities, and we function together. We want to impress upon the government how important our residences are to us.” shared Dr. Linda Savoury Gordon, C.A.P.T. Board member.
Neil Conway spokesperson for Trout Lake Properties Inc. stated, “The irony for our association is that the general meeting has had to be held in The Sault, due to inability to access properties. Many of the people in the association have not been to their properties in a couple of years because of the train. We all accessed our properties by train. We are dependent on the train. The Whitman Dam Road is a harrowing experience and it hasn’t been maintained in over two years. If you don’t pack a chain saw, a shovel and lots of patience, you’re not getting to your property at the lake. The Dam Road only gets us within 10 miles of the lake. You need a four wheeler to get down to the lake. A lot of us are getting up there in age. Not having this train discriminates against the very young, the elderly, and the economically disadvantaged who can’t afford to buy four wheelers to get to their properties. You need a four wheeler just to get down the Whitman Damn Road at this point.”
Conway stated that he has helped people get to their properties with his four wheeler on several occasions, but stresses that it is getting increasingly dangerous to continue to do so. “The train is everything to us. The place is like a ghost town these days due to people not being able to access their properties in the last couple of years.”
Carol Caputo, Exec. Director, Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association, said, “The Lodges along the line are suffering financially. One family run business that I was speaking with earlier today, and has been operating for decades has seen their business drop by 90%. Transportation has caused this problem. While the rest of our region is enjoying growth in the tourism sector, businesses along the line are threatened with closures. How long can a business continue with a 90% drop in their clientele? We are baffled by the decision of Transport Canada. Imagine your paycheck being cut by 90%.”
Linda Savoury Gordon encourages people to sign a petition to bring back the train, which can be found electronically here:petitions.parl.gc.ca
The Petition to the Minister of Transport is sponsored by MP Carol Hughes, Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing and is open for signatures until December 14th, 2016. The Petition reads, in part, ‘We, the undersigned, Citizens of Canada, call upon the Minister of Transport to put the Algoma passenger train back in service in order to ensure the mission of Transport Canada to “serve the public interest through promotion of a safe and secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation system in Canada” is fulfilled.’ Petitions are also available for signing in hard copy at various places, including Gus’s Pizza on Queen Street E.
Property and business owners along the A.C.R. corridor are encouraged to become part of a master list by contacting C.A.P.T at:
Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains c/o NORDIK Institute, Algoma University College, 1520 Queen Street East,Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada. P6A 2G4
Phone: (705) 949-2301, ext. 4356 or 4320 or Email: [email protected]