It’s been three years since the last passenger train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst and the economic impact to the area is mounting, according to the advocacy group , Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains.
The group held a press conference Friday morning at the Civic Centre to provide evidence to disprove Transport Canada & the Minister of Transport’s “erroneous claim” of existing public, safe and accessible alternative modes of transportation for people to reach destinations along the Algoma rail corridor and to show the economic impact the loss of the passenger train service has meant to the district.
“We need our damn train back!”, Carol Cuputo, Executive Director of the Algoma Kinniwabi Travel Association said to the crowd. Cuputo reported that businesses and lodges along the rail line have realized a drop of 80 percent in revenue since the service stopped operating in July 2015. In comparison Cuputo said tourism for fishing lodges is up 16 percent in the region, but down 80 percent for lodges along the rail line.
In a BDO report on the economic impact of the passenger train service between the south and north of the district translates into $38 to $48 million. 220 jobs and $5 million in loss tax revenues.
That news appears to be falling on deaf ears at the federal transportation ministry, believes a frustrated Linda Savory Gordon CAPT member and spokesperson. ” on the economic impact, we refer to the mandate letter of Trudeau to Garneau (Minister of transportation) that they are to provide transportation to further economic development” Savory Gordon said. The former Conservative government cancelled then re-instated the $2.2 million dollar subsidy in 2015 realizing the direct impact on communities and jobs. “Everything was in place but when the Liberals took over the federal government however has been slow to react to the situation.” She noted that MP Terry Sheehan campaigned on criticizing the Harper government for eliminating the subsidy in 2015″
“I’m just here to to make a plea , please Federal Government, please help me out as a business owner” Dean Anderson, owner of the Catalina Motel. Anderson claims his business has suffered losses since the tourism dollars stopped with the train being idle.
Anderson started a new package through his motel catering to Americans who would travel the train with their sled and travel back to the Sault using the trail system. The tourism package grew his business substantially, but now it’s gone.
“with eight million visitors a year in the region , transportation and vitality of the tourism sector is key,” said David McLaughlin, executive director of Tourism Northern Ontario. “we’re very well equipped for visitors from Southern Ontario to come here by air, but once they get here other transportation methods are really quite limited”
Some in the crowd were critical of elected officials for not showing up to discuss the issue. “where’s our MP? Where’s Romano and the Mayor? why aren’t they here?” asked a woman in the crowd.
The group continues to lobby the government for quicker action and urges citizens to voice their opinion about the loss of service , the financial impact on the tourism sector and the job losses leading from the loss of the train service.