Letter: Liberal lack of support for ACR train continues

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It’s the Great Train Robbery – Liberal edition. A year-and-a-half since the Algoma Central Railway (ACR) passenger train last ran and the federal government continues to shortchange the economy and safe transportation in the region. Each day that the historic ACR train does not run between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst is one more lost for tourist businesses, First Nations peoples, travelers, and communities along the line.

The Algoma train provides many of the things the Liberals love to say they represent, and yet still no wheels move. Local economic stimulation? A 2015 BDO Canada study stated the train generates between $28 and $38 million in annual economic activity. Environmental responsibility? Trains are 17% more efficient than planes and 34% more than cars. Relationships with First Nations? The ACR line allows local First Nations peoples to access traditional territories. Safe travel in Canada? The ACR train, especially in Winter, is the best way to reach remote localities along the line.

For lack of previously-promised start-up monies, $5.3 million over 3 years, the Justin Trudeau government thru incompetence or willful choice, has had a serious negative economic and social impact on the region. The Prime Minister’s lofty words remain just that, Minister of Transport Marc Garneau is tone-deaf to the topographic reality of the North, and Minister of Small Business & Tourism Bardish Chagger is nowhere to be seen.

Liberal MP Terry Sheehan of Sault Ste. Marie, seeking to save face, has trumpeted $200K recently awarded to Missinabie Cree FN, the proposed new passenger train operator, to assist with a business plan. While that money can augment an already-existing plan and finalize terms with line-owner CN Rail, that is not the same as a public Liberal commitment to restart the train or recognition that the ACR line geographically qualifies for the remote funding revoked by Garneau in July 2016.

Perhaps one of two things could finally get Liberal support for the ACR train. Trudeau, Garneau, Chagger, and Sheehan could drive together in a car from the Soo to Hearst in February. Or, a Liberal fundraising event could be held on the train and money would certainly flow in then.

Chad Beharriell

Iron Bridge, ON

2 COMMENTS

  1. The time of a reply to my letter is appreciated, Rick. However, a number of points must be made.

    First, CN Rail did not previously operate the ACR passenger train to max efficiency (such trains are never a priority for freight lines) and still the cost per CDN for the ACR train was only 7 cents per year (neorn.ca stat) – that “heavy” subsidy can be cut even further/eliminated with proper management & a strong business plan. Keewatin Railway (a successful FN-run rail company in Manitoba) has offered mentorship to Missinabie Cree FN when they restart the train.

    Second, I recommend researching the difficult & dangerous travel conditions for the small percentage of “roads” (i.e. non-maintained private logging access roads) along the ACR that do connect to communities along the line (84% of the 476 km line has no road access). The ACR route is truly remote, given the geographic conditions, and is deserved of the revoked federal remote rail subsidy.

    Third, consider the ACR train as a building block toward a revitalized passenger rail system in the North. Highways and airports are heavily subsidized by gov’t and yet those two options are more likely to be shut down by winter weather than train travel. Between 2011 and 2014, the northeast section of Ontario had 674 highway closures (neorn.ca stat) – thus, you are effectively subsidizing a travel option that is often unusable. Further, a re-started ACR line gives the option to connect to the east-west VIA Rail train at Oba, thus again giving an option to safely travel to say Winnipeg or Toronto. Please keep that mind as the Montreal River hill on the Trans-Canada highway closes multiple times each winter.

    Finally, as a passenger rail advocate, I often say that my great-grandparents’ generation had better train travel than we do today. However, we can change that and go “back to the future” so to speak. I hope that you will join us in that work (one driven by the grassroots and not professional politicians), as it is a venture (adventure, really!) that will benefit people across the North.

    Thank you,
    Chad Beharriell,
    Iron Bridge, ON

  2. No real train operator Is interested with or without the 5 million. The tiny amount of cottages that use this heavily subsidized train need to use a pick up truck or atv to get to their fancy cottages. Or give me the five million and I will drive you to Hearst on the highway any time! First world problems! The $200,000 is a waste of taxpayer dollars as this group is not a professional train operator. Stop wasting money.

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