They do it in Tennesee and Colorado, why not here? (7 photos)Thursday, June 05, 2014 by: Kenneth Armstrong
The Algoma Central Railway has been in service for 100 years and the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) held a celebration Saturday, involving an almost 300-mile trip to Hearst, Ontario.
Approximately a dozen stakeholders and local media made the trip to Hearst, but CAPT asked others to take the train on that day, including camp owners, lodge owners and students.
Harold McQuarrie wouldn't have needed to buy a ticket for the ride - he was given a lifetime pass for the ACR passenger service upon retirement.
"I would have liked to make the trip today, but I can't really get away for a few days," said McQuarrie.
He was at the CN rail yard Saturday morning to see the train off. The ACR passenger train doesn't board at the same station as the Agawa Canyon tour train.
McQuarrie worked on the line for 27 years in the forestry division, replacing railway ties.
"I kept them on track," said McQuarrie, smiling at a joke likely told many times over the years.
The train consists of two passenger cars and two baggage cars in the rear, with an engine and generator car in the front.
Passengers ride in comfortable seats in an air-conditioned cabin, but there is little in the way of accessibility. Some elderly or disabled passengers may have a difficult time stepping on to the train, with no hydraulic lift available for wheelchairs.
A ramp could be used for wheelchairs, though it is intended to be used to load ATV's, boats, etc into the baggage cars.
Had the federal government not come up with an extension of the train's $2.2-million subsidy earlier this year, the passenger service on the line would have ended completely on April 1, 2014.
Federal Transportation Minister Lisa Raitt was in the Sault in April to announce the extension, but stressed it was a one-time injection and that the local stakeholders need to work with CN to make the passenger service viable.
Joe Fratesi, the city of Sault Ste. Marie's chief administrative officer, who is on the board for the ACR Passenger Service Working Group, did not make the trip Saturday, but was present to see the train off.
"Seeing the different people that are here - the tourists, the cottage owners and First Nations representatives - just shows how many different lives the train and the loss of the train would touch," said Fratesi.
Fratesi said he hopes by presenting a proper business case they can get all levels of government back on board to keep the service going.
"It's not a subsidy, it's an investment," said Fratesi.
Forrest Hinich, whose parents own a camp on Achigan Lake, hadn't been on the train in about seven years before making the voyage Saturday.
He cites the closing of the Searchmont Station and changes in schedule as reasons for a drop in ridership.
"Once that closed, it turned a lot of people off, having to drive back to town," said Hinich, whose family camp is also accessible by road.
"Most people my age have no idea this even exists. They don't know the possibilities, like adventure and eco-tourism and the places only accessible by this train," said Hinich, who preferred to ride in the baggage cars over the comfort inside the passenger cars.
Shaun Parent also wishes more people knew those tourism activities offered, he conducts ice-climbing tours of the Agawa Canyon in the winter months.
He has written three books on ice-climbing in the canyon and has hosted tourists from all over the world, including Europe and South Africa.
Parent would like to see more activities offered in the canyon in all seasons, including rafting, snowshoeing and hiking.
"That's done in Tennasee, in Colorado, everywhere else. Why not here?" said Parent, who adds that the 200 meter ice-climb is as good as anywhere else in North America.
(PHOTO: Sandra Slater-Possamai looks out the side of the ACR passenger train during a trip May 31, 2014. SooToday.com/Kenneth Armstrong)