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Passenger train cancellation 'not a responsible decision'

Thursday, February 20, 2014   by: Darren Taylor

The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) held a town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Sault Ste. Marie for people affected by CN Rail’s January decision to discontinue passenger rail service between the Sault and Hearst.

CAPT Board member Linda Savory Gordon and CAPT Co-Chair Al Errington (pictured with CAPT merchandise Wednesday) were among those who organized the meeting, which filled the Civic Centre’s Russ Ramsay Room to capacity.

CN Rail announced January 24 that, because of a cut of $2.2 million in annual federal government funding it received to operate the Sault to Hearst run, it would be ending passenger rail service from the Sault to Hearst as of March 31.

Since then, CN has announced it is extending passenger rail service on the route until April 29.

Wednesday’s town hall meeting included an overview of the CN Rail/Sault to Hearst situation (and the challenges Canadian rail service has faced in general over the years) from Transport Action Canada’s Harry Gow.

Gow encouraged the audience: “Be organized, stay organized and make lots of noise.”

There was also a presentation of a film trailer for an upcoming documentary about the ACR and its artistic/historical link to the Group of Seven from well-known wildlife adventurer Joanie McGuffin and local artist/art historian Michael Burtch, as well as messages of support from the Canadian Federation of Students and famous Canadian painter Robert Bateman.

However, the evening’s highlight was the open discussion from the people who attended.

Many people passionately shared what the Sault to Hearst passenger rail route has meant to them throughout their lives and the lives of their families throughout the decades.

Owners of hunting and fishing lodges, most of which are accessible only by rail and who rely on the Sault to Hearst passenger rail line for their livelihood, cottage owners wondering how they will access their cottages (some of which have been owned by their families for generations) and tourists who enjoy the Sault to Hearst route, all shared their stories.

One tourism business owner told of how thousands of people over the years have travelled from the U.S. and as far away as South Africa to experience ice climbing along the Sault to Hearst region.

Passenger rail enthusiasts from Michigan were in attendance and also voiced their support for the route’s continued operation.

The open discussion was also intended to be a brainstorming session of what can be done to save the line.

CAPT Co-Chair Al Errington, who is a Sault native, Batchawana Bay resident and owner/operator of Errington’s Wilderness Island (a wilderness vacation spot located 206 miles north of Sault Ste. Marie),  told SooToday.com: “The best thing to do is to write to (Sault Ste. Marie MP) Bryan Hayes and Minister of Transport Lisa Raitt and say this federal government decision (to cut annual funding to CN Rail for the Sault to Hearst passenger rail service) is not acceptable because of the economic and social importance of this train, because there are so many people affected by this.”

Errington encouraged people to keep in touch with CAPT through its website and sign up for the group’s email list, noting there will be more town halls and meetings, the need for volunteers to help with the cause (and, possibly financial support to help pay for lobbying trips to Ottawa) as time goes by.

An online petition can be accessed through the CAPT website and Errington said that information will be passed on to the federal government.

A representative from the Bryan Hayes local constituency office attended Wednesday’s town hall meeting.

Errington said he was shocked to hear that Hayes too was surprised by the federal government’s sudden announcement regarding the cut in funding to CN Rail, but added the Conservative MP has been supportive of concerned stakeholders.

“Bryan has been gathering and passing on information to the Minister.”

“We (the stakeholders) are hoping to have a dialogue with Transport Canada, once they start listening to us,” Errington said.

Errington said a working committee of various stakeholders is keeping CN Rail informed of its concerns and activities, and told us he clearly blames the federal government, and not CN Rail, for the current predicament.

The CAPT Co-Chair said there would be firings at CN Rail if the company itself was to spend $2 million annually to make up for the shortfall in funding from the federal government, stating the company’s shareholders are strictly interested in the bottom line.

If a one-year extension of funding can be won from the federal government, what can be done to permanently save the Sault to Hearst passenger rail route?

Errington said the service should be enhanced with more advertising for the ACR (it was noted the services offered by the much larger VIA Rail are not promoted well), a better train schedule, and possibly better train cars to increase ridership.

Errington said upper management at CN Rail, which is primarily a freight carrier, is remote and unconcerned with passenger rail service, and needs to be made aware of its importance.

“The provincial government needs to get involved as well…they have an obligation to be there and they haven’t been,” Errington added.

Errington said: “We need the federal government, the provincial government and CN at the table with all the socio-economic stakeholders and then we can start talking about options…there are options and they have to be explored.”

Errington emphasized CAPT’s view that the federal government needs to respond first, however.

“This has not been a responsible decision at all.”

“After four decades of funding the line, they’ve never done an analysis of what good those funds have done.”

A working committee of various stakeholders, led by Sault Ste. Marie Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Joe Fratesi, has been formed to lobby the federal government to extend its funding for the Sault to Hearst line for one year while the committee looks for ways to extend the service on a long-term basis.

Errington is a member of that committee.

Another CAPT town hall meeting was scheduled for this morning in Wawa at the Michipicoten Memorial Community Centre, and a third in Hearst at 8 p.m. in the Companion Hotel.

 

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Comments
17
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Tag33&1/3rd 2/20/2014 11:58:50 AM Report

Shirts for sale? I couldn't find it in the 50,000 word essay.
Twistinwrenches 2/20/2014 12:32:32 PM Report

2.2 million tax payer dollars ! WOW !!
right wing 2/20/2014 12:35:50 PM Report

"The CAPT Co-Chair said there would be firings at CN Rail if the company itself was to spend $2 million annually to make up for the shortfall in funding from the federal government, stating the company’s shareholders are strictly interested in the bottom line."

So this is basically to be a tax payer funded venture as it is not financially viable without the government funding.
I sure would like to see some dollar figures on how much is put back into the local economy via the tourism and outfitters.
Is it a break even deal, profitable, for ever losing just fund it deal.....
Just Curious 2/20/2014 1:08:07 PM Report

Have never taken the train to Hearst but it was on my bucket list for this summer, now I guess it won't be...A nice leisurely train ride with a multitude of stops and then a nice supper and motel room in Hearst and come back the next day. Haven't checked out the actual price for a while but it's a great way to spend a couple of days I would think...:)
anapeg 2/20/2014 1:14:53 PM Report

How does one brand a business move as being "not a responsible decision". If something is not 'making' money dump it, if something is loosing 2 million PLUS, dump it faster. Seems responsible as hell to me.
If a venture does not pay the bills and offer something in way of a return why oh why does the taxpayer get sucked into the fray.
Verbatim 2/20/2014 1:26:14 PM Report

this freaking company has been subsidized by the govenrnment for years..now all of a sudden this billion dollar company is losing a 2.2 million dollar subsidy so they think ...well screw the tax payer im not doing anything for the....maybe we should tell them we want some of the 100 plus millions we have given them over the years....i find it difficuly to beleive that 2.2 million loss is gonna break their bank
Thim 2/20/2014 2:08:30 PM Report

With all due respect Mr Errington, I called you about reservations at your fishing lodge on Wabatongushi Lake and when I said I was towing my own boat in by means of a perfectly good public road behind Dubreuilville that crosses this lake you refused to rent to me.

You told me that you would not rent to me unless I took the train or flew in...is that not the truth Mr Errington?

We know you'll read these responses so please clarify this...
ROLAND_ROLLY 2/20/2014 4:10:51 PM Report

This committee should foot the bill for the study and not use the citizens of Sault Ste. Marie. I have pot holes the size of manholes on my street which never seem to get repaired !!!!

Tough crap about the tourist camp owners or the the 'camp' owners pony up the money yourselfs. The friggen well has gone dry. What the hell is JF doing on this group ... hmmmm.... may have a camp that needs the rail service.

BTW, where have the tourist camp owners been regarding my crappy water. Truth is they couldn't care less.

Pi**ed off in SSM.
Thim 2/20/2014 4:46:26 PM Report

The MNR closes roads that potentially provide access to a great number of the lakes they operate on, forcing the public to take the train or fly in, even though a road may be nearby...creating an artificial remoteness so they can charge accordingly which happens to be up to three times their drive-to competitor...the public gets charged for trespassing if they try and share their own lakes.
kuva 2/20/2014 7:23:30 PM Report

Why cant this railroad be taken over by the lodges and resort owners and private cottage owners ? They could divide the costs and reap the benefits for tickets sold for day trips by tourists !!. Wow a new business for them !!and a break for the tax payer.





littlejoe 2/20/2014 7:52:10 PM Report

"WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A PROBLEM TO COMMUNICATE"

All these people that have homes,cottages,resorts and other businesses do not pay any mucicipal taxes.

Lets start a tax fund so we can pay CN
and stop taking the working people's taxes.

No free ride.
littlejoe 2/20/2014 7:55:54 PM Report

"WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS A PROBLEM TO COMMUNICATE"

All these people that have homes,cottages,resorts and other businesses do not pay any municipal taxes.

Lets start a tax fund so we can pay CN
and stop taking the working people's taxes.

No free ride.
Too much! 2/21/2014 12:54:14 AM Report

"FAILURE!" The quote is: "What we have here is a failure to communicate."

And: Go CAPT!! I'm behind you all the way!! Thank you Ms. Gordon and Mr. Errington for all your efforts!
sparks7 3/23/2014 4:39:06 AM Report

To some of you engine guys on the passenger train. Your incompetence,ignorance,insolence,is looking good on you now.
sparks7 3/23/2014 4:47:00 AM Report

In the 60's 70's and early 80's, you guys were all right ,but somehow now you have morphed into complete assholes.
sparks7 3/23/2014 5:02:07 AM Report

Sure,
Threaten to leave me on the track stranded or drive me up further than I want to get off and do it purposely ...see what you get
sparks7 3/23/2014 5:40:18 AM Report

ACR engineers are nothing more than power tripping little punks.
Comments
17
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