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First the feds, now the province is off track when it comes to passenger rail service, group states

Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains writes province’s long-term transportation strategy short-changes northern Ontario, passenger rail service
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20170728-Linda Savory Gordon with Justin Trudeau photograph-DT
Linda Savory Gordon, Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) spokesperson, with a photo of an invited but no-show Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at a CAPT meeting at Sault Ste. Marie’s Civic Centre, July 28, 2017. Darren Taylor/SooToday

The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) has dumped on the province’s draft Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy (NOMTS), stating in a written response it is “completely lacking in vision.”

CAPT stated the plan does not respond to community consultations on passenger rail and does not address what CAPT feels what needs to be developed in terms of multimodal transportation over the next 25 years, leaving northerners with only road and air transportation.

“Rail continues to innovate outside Canada. Bombardier, for one, now offers passenger trains that reach 150 kilometres per hour on regular tracks, winter or summer. Most of these trains are running in many countries except Canada because rail is not supported here,” CAPT wrote.

While not completely discounting bus travel between communities, CAPT stated “buses are not a comfortable mode of transportation, particularly for seniors and people with disabilities, for long distance travel.”

“From a multi-modal perspective buses are most effectively used as short distance feeder vehicles to transport people to passenger rail lines for longer distance travel,” CAPT wrote.

Passenger rail service is essential for healthcare purposes, to enable patients in remote northern areas to get to larger centres with hospitals where they can receive proper treatment, as well as to promote tourism (such as northern Ontario’s Group of Seven country), CAPT asserted.

“For passengers with accessibility and health issues, travel for longer distances by train is safer and more accommodating than by bus because trains allow people to stretch through moving around and washrooms are more accessible.”

Regarding growth of northern Ontario tourism, CAPT wrote “it is common knowledge that most tourists will not drive more than four hours in the summer and two hours in the winter to reach a tourist destination, but many would be happy travelling the long distances by train.” 

“If the province were to extend the mandate of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission to cover all of northern Ontario, then it is conceivable that improved connectivity of motor coach services and passenger rail to provide these essential services is possible,” CAPT wrote.

“The NOMTS report does not even consider passenger rail services such as renewing the ONTC’s Northlander between Cochrane and Toronto,” CAPT lamented.

“A passenger train from Sault Ste. Marie to North Bay could have easily connected with both the southbound and northbound Northlander, adding additional passengers wishing to travel to Toronto and points north. The Ontario government should be advocating on behalf of the remote communities from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst for Transport Canada to reinstate passenger train service on the ACR line.”

The written CAPT report continued “in southern Ontario, passenger rail connects numerous communities with annual subsidies in the hundreds of millions. If passenger rail service is considered to be a necessity there, then why can’t it be expanded to include the north where it is equally necessary?”

“The rail beds are there. Seize on the opportunity to use them for passenger service, not just freight,” the CAPT statement concluded.

The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains continues to champion the reinstatement of Sault to Hearst passenger rail service.

Discontinuation of a federal government subsidy to operate the route for passenger rail service by the former Conservative government led to operators of tourist lodges and cottage owners left with only extremely rough roads with which to travel through that area north of the Sault.

The Liberal government shuffled the issue of supporting Sault to Hearst passenger rail service from Transport Canada to Indigenous and Northern Affairs (INAC), as the Missanabie Cree First Nation, along with CAPT, formulates a plan to to revive and operate the Sault to Hearst run along the CN-owned line between the two communities.