Despite repeated disappointments at the hands of the federal government, CN Rail and Railmark, the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) is still holding out hope the ACR passenger service will be up and running in the very near future.
The group held a town hall meeting Wednesday night at the Civic Centre.
“You should never give up. One thing people have to know deep down — sometimes we’re too polite as Canadians — this is our government. It does not belong to the bureaucrats and it does not belong to the special interests. It belongs to the people of Canada and Ontario,” said Al Errington, lodge owner and co-founder of CAPT.
Errington said the temporary loss of passenger service in Algoma is the symptom of a larger problem across Canada — that transportation is not a priority of government.
“It’s valuable to us personally, but it’s also valuable to the economy, to employment and tax generation. There is absolutely no reason for it not to be running,”
CAPT members were updated with news of on-going negotiations to find a new third party operator to access the Remote Rail Program subsidy, as well as plans to reschedule postponed events — such as the Group of Seven and Glenn Gould Train Event — until after the train is back up and running.
The wildly successful Searchmont North Pole Express (formerly known as the Polar Express) will not run this Christmas season but the group may add another child-focussed train during the spring or summer months.
In past years that event train had consistently sold out within an hour of tickets being made available.
The group is suggesting a children’s literature theme — possibly The Little Engine That Could — to replace this year’s North Pole Express before it gets back on track for next year.
Errington addressed the group regarding the ACR working group’s request for a winterization train to allow camp and lodge owners to close up for the winter prior to the freeze-up.
He said CN is not open to the idea because they have insufficient crews to run the train and the company is not able to access money from the subsidy.
As a result, the train would have to run as a charter and would be too cost-prohibitive to be realistic.
The group is hopeful the train could run on a limited schedule — two trains a week until the end of October and one a week during the remaining winter months.
They argue crews should become available once the Agawa Canyon Tour Train ends its season later this month.
That plan would rely on CN getting on board, as well as Transport Canada modifying the agreement to allow CN to access the subsidy to be put in CN’s name temporarily.
Local NDP candidate Skip Morrison — who was in attendance — was not optimistic Transport Canada would do anything before the upcoming October 19 federal election.
“We can look at it and be optimistic but the realistic view is no one in Transportation Canada is going to be motivated to act on this given the tyrannical nature of the previous government muzzling activity and requiring all decisions be made from the PMO,” said Morrison.
Terry Sheehan — who is running locally for the Liberal Party — said the previous government’s handling of this file was shameful.
“They took a billion dollars away from veterans, they took $2.2-million from this community. They took away $8.5-million from FedNor last year. The only reason they brought this back was because of the outcry and the rallying,” said Sheehan.
Incumbent candidate Bryan Hayes was not in attendance at the meeting.
Errington attributes the hope still being displayed by those in attendance to the history and memories of those who used the service.
“I’m still optimistic. I don’t have a lot of faith in the government bureaucracy or the CN bureaucracy but I have faith in our group,” said Errington.
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(PHOTO: CAPT co-chair Al Errington addresses a town hall meeting at the Civic Centre Wednesday night. Kenneth Armstrong/SooToday)