Howie Wilcox, Chair of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) submitted CAPT’s response to the 25-year provincial transportation strategy. In it he states that the draft Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Strategy (NOMTS) “is completely lacking in vision, is not multi-modal, …and does not respond to the input from its community consultations.”
Summary of CAPT’s response to the NOMTS proposed strategy:
The NOMTS report is based on the current transportation that exists NOW, not on what COULD and NEEDS to be developed in the next 25 years. It is based on the fact that in Northern Ontario travellers have no choice but road and air transportation because there is almost no passenger train service. The strategy needs to be far more visionary in order to achieve its stated vision: ‘Northern Ontario’s transportation system is responsive to economic, social and environmental needs and change, and is transformative in supporting new economic activity, healthy communities and a cleaner environment.’
There is a great need to broaden the transportation mix in Northern Ontario in order to move beyond the very narrow focus on exclusively road and air travel.
With the energy crisis and climate change, the need for passenger rail to connect our northern communities with each other as well as with the rest of the province and country has become imperative. When it becomes increasingly dangerous due to extreme weather to drive long distances and the urgency to reduce carbon emissions forces us to use rail, train service will be essential to the future of Northern Ontario. Without it our communities could become ghost towns. The need to attract and retain young people, tourists and immigrants to Northern communities, as well as the needs of the aging population, make passenger rail essential.
Replacing trains with buses does not “modernize” transportation. Rail, on the other hand, is a more modern technological innovation— only a little older than air transportation as a technology. Rail continues to innovate outside Canada. Bombardier, for one, now offers passenger trains that reach 150 km/hour on regular tracks, winter or summer. Most of these trains are running in many countries except Canada because rail is not supported here. 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. Northern Ontarians urgently need passenger service on the existing tracks to travel to health care, to post-secondary education, for youth retention, to bring tourists to our amazing tourism destinations and to travel long distances in dangerous Northern weather. Our economy, our educational institutions, our health care facilities and our communities are in great need of the reinstatement of passenger train service.
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.
The NOMTS report does not even consider passenger rail services such as renewing the ONTC’s Northlander between Cochrane and Toronto. 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.
With the increasing number of extreme weather events related to steadily increasing climate change, passenger rail provides a safer way to travel, than road and air travel. NOMTS has to take into account the fact that the number and duration of highway closures are increasing.
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.
Restoring passenger rail on the existing rail beds in Northern Ontario is one of the fastest ways to respond to climate change as it is a very effective way to reduce carbon emissions and to link people, resources and businesses during our increasingly extreme weather events. The NOMTS report shockingly neglected to propose arguably the fastest and most effective way to reduce GHG: by planning for a well-coordinated, energy-efficient passenger rail service along the existing rail beds in Northern Ontario. Rail stands alone in its ability to combine energy efficiency with economic and environmental benefits. GHG would be reduced considerably by lower fuel consumption and less production and laying of asphalt for road beds due to less damage through fewer vehicles on highways;
Lower health, police and insurance costs would result from greater use of passenger rail. Hazardous road conditions over long distances can increase the number of highway accidents and injuries.
With our vast land mass and sparse population in Northern Ontario, the cost of fuel and climate change: we cannot afford NOT to invest in rail.
The Draft NOMTS Report is not multi-modal
The NOMTS process should have included a SWOT analysis of the different modes of transportation. A SWOT analysis would have evaluated the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats associated with the various modes of transportation. To develop a good transportation strategy, the relative strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats vis a vis the various modes should have been assessed to determine for example which modes are most effective for long distance travel, which are better for short distances, which result in the least or most GHGs, which are most likely to function during extreme weather etc. All modes are useful but the appropriate use of each should be based on information about their usefulness for various purposes. For example, based on the environmental, economic and social strengths and weaknesses of buses and trains, feeder buses could be used to transport people for short distances to passenger train lines that would be effective for longer distances.
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? There is no region like Northern Ontario that has such a great need for a comprehensive rail passenger service that is more accessible and safer than bus service and less expensive than air. Long distances, the need to reduce carbon emissions, and hazardous winter highway conditions are only a few of the justifications for such a service. Northerners should not be treated as ‘second-class’ citizens! The rail beds are there–seize on the opportunity to use them for passenger service not just freight. This message was expressed very strongly at all of the NOMTS community consultations, but it is not reflected in the draft report.
The negative economic impacts of cutting the Northlander and Algoma passenger trains have been huge in Northeastern Ontario. Attracting tourists to far away tourist destinations and students to our northern colleges and universities requires safe and affordable transportation. Both the federal and provincial governments state that tourism is an important economic diversification focus to help replace resource-based industries. But how can the tourism sector flourish when there is no passenger rail. It is common knowledge that most tourists will not drive more than 4 hours in the summer and 2 hours in the winter to reach a tourist destination, but many would be happy travelling the long distances by train. Most communities in Northeastern Ontario have policies to encourage more immigrants and people from southern Ontario to move here. Rail connectivity to the south should be paramount for the success of such plans. Health care in Northern Ontario is highly regionalized. As a result, people have to travel very long distances to receive care. It is unacceptable to expect people with health problems and disabilities to travel hundreds of miles by bus to reach a regional health care centre.
Carol Hughes Delivers Online Algoma Passenger Train Petition in House of Commons
An online petition with more than 550 signatures in support of Algoma Passenger Train Services has been presented in the House of Commons by Algoma-Manitoulin-Kapuskasing MP, Carol Hughes.
“For over a hundred years the Algoma Passenger Train offered safe, affordable, all-season access to the Algoma wilderness while supporting a strong tourism economy along its route.,” said Hughes “The train provided access for First Nations to their remote and traditional territory and was the only safe option available for 75% of the properties along the line.”
The petition was sponsored by the Coalition for the Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) who created two online petitions as well as postcard and paper petition campaigns. With concerns about safety, access, and the economic well-being of tourism in the region, CAPT has worked to have passenger service reinstated since it was discontinued in 2015.
“Since passenger services stopped, people have been stranded when their vehicles have been badly damaged on industrial roads that are not maintained for public use,” said Hughes. Hughes also cited the social, economic, employment and tax-generating benefits of passenger services that were documented in a 2015 BDO Canada report. “That’s why these petitioners are calling on the government to put the Algoma Passenger Train back in service and to ensure the mission of Transport Canada is fulfilled,” said Hughes.
Hughes Présente Une Pétition Électronique Sue le Service Voyageurs de L’Algoma Central Railway
Last ACR Passenger Train to leave Hawk Junction on July 13, 2015.
La députée fédérale d’Algoma—Manitoulin—Kapuskasing, Carol Hughes, a déposé à la Chambre des communes une pétition électronique portant plus de 550 signatures d’appui au service voyageurs de l’Algoma Central Railway.
« Depuis plus de 100 ans le service voyageurs de la société Algoma offrait un accès sûr et abordable en toute saison aux espaces sauvages d’Algoma tout en stimulant le tourisme le long de la voie, a déclaré Mme Hughes. Le train assurait l’accès pour les Premières Nations à leurs territoires ancestraux éloignés et constituait la seule option sûre pour 75 % des propriétés situées le long de la voie. »
La pétition a été parrainée par la Coalition Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT), qui a créé deux pétitions électroniques et organisé l’envoi de cartes postales et de pétitions sur papier. Soucieuse de la sécurité, de l’accès et de la vitalité économique du secteur touristique dans la région, la CAPT travaille à faire rétablir le service voyageurs depuis son interruption en 2015.
« L’absence de services voyageurs a laissé des gens démunis quand leurs véhicules ont été gravement endommagés sur des routes de chantier qui ne sont pas entretenues pour l’usage publique », a souligné Mme Hughes. La députée Hughes a également cité un rapport de 2015 de BDO Canada concernant les retombées sociales, économiques et fiscales des services voyageurs ainsi que les emplois qu’ils créent. « C’est la raison pour laquelle ces pétitionnaires demandent au gouvernement de rétablir le service voyageurs de l’Algoma Central Railway, afin que soit remplie la mission de Transports Canada », a ajouté Mme Hughes.
Businesses, Communities and Residents Stranded – fund Ontario’s 1st FN Train: Mask-Wa Oo-Ta Ban
The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) is demanding no more second-class treatment by Transport Canada, requesting that they fund the operation of a full-service Algoma Passenger Train under Missanabie Cree First Nation.
CAPT is looking for community support for this project.
Government funding of the Missanabie Cree First Nation-run train will contribute to reconciliation by creating First Nation employment opportunities. The full operation of the Algoma Passenger Train under Missanabie Cree First Nation would provide:
accessible and eco-friendly transportation,
support northern small businesses and the regional economy,
while also promoting:
Group of Seven tourism,
and Francophone/French Immersion tourism,
all of which are integral elements of Canadian culture and history, as well as current tourism trends. The passenger train initiative is also essential to transporting a significant number of people to and from up-north locations, as it is the only all-season transportation to remote wilderness for residents, recreations, and tourists. In addition to recreationalists and adventurists, the train is also the means for many remote residents to access proper healthcare and post-secondary education.
CAPT has been receiving calls from people all over the United States and Canada who are anxiously asking if and when the passenger train from the Sault to Hearst will be running. These calls are from people who have properties along the rail corridor or who have been vacationing for generations at resorts on the line. The local economy is suffering terribly, and the survival of small businesses is threatened.
To support this initiative, please sign the petition that CAPT has launched, which can be found here.
To see how you can help or for more information on this initiative, please visit:
www.captrains.ca, or contact Dawne Cunningham at 705-759-6195 or dawne@firstname.lastname@example.org
or Linda Savory Gordon at 705-943-0971 or email@example.com.
The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains hopes local officials can help get the passenger train rolling again.
City council will hear a presentation at its meeting Monday asking the City of Sault Ste. Marie and the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp., to temporarily use the new municipal accommodation tax to fund the initial operation of the passenger train.
Dorothy Macnaughton, chair of CAPT, said the idea was presented to the board several months ago by Catalina Motel general manager Dean Anderson.
Anderson developed the proposal, presented it to CAPT’s board, and the board determined it was an option worth pursuing.
The EDC and the city are aware of the proposal and meetings have taken place to discuss the concept, Macnaughton said.
“The Missanabie Cree already has their operating certificate and, if we can get the passenger train up and running in short time, then wouldn’t it make sense for the city to consider this,” Macnaughton asked.
A BDO economic impact report completed several years ago concluded that the passenger train creates a $40-million economic impact on the region.
Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corp., executive director Dan Hollingsworth said the EDC’s portion of the new accommodation tax is about $700,000 annually and, by legislation, that money must be directed toward marketing and product development.
“It is possible down the road to consider, if there is a strong tourism argument for the passenger service and it is increasing visitor nights to the community, it may be eligible for some funds,” he said.
Hollingsworth said the EDC has had conversations with Missanabie Cree about the passenger rail service and about redefining the business model for the train going forward and expanding the experiences for that train.
The city’s portion of the funds collected on the four-per-cent fee applied to stays in hotels, motels, lodges, inns, resorts and bed and breakfasts, is expected to be slightly more than $400,000 and could be used to promote tourism and other activities.
Mayor Christian Provenzano said he agrees with CAPT’s argument that the passenger rail service is important economically to both the Sault and region.
Provenzano said it’s difficult to hear of billions in funding announced elsewhere across Canada, including that for light rail, and a small $2-million of investment not approved for Northern Ontario.
“If appears we can’t get anywhere from these small asks and we see massive federal and provincial expenditures on much larger requests elsewhere,” he said.
Provenzano said he’s supportive of CAPT and believes the funding should come from higher levels of government.
“It’s premature for us to talk about the Municipal Accommodation Tax funding at this point because it just started and we have to determine how it will fit into the budget for 2020,” he said.
Macnaughton said that CAPT also believes it would make sense if CN Rail decided to stop operating the Algoma Canyon Tour Train, perhaps it too could be run by the Missanabie Cree and the two operations could create synergies and run year round.
CN Rail communication director Jonathan Abecassis said it has no intention to discontinue the Algoma Canyon Tour Train.
In fact, Hollingsworth said a Request for Proposals is currently calling for all possibilities of growing the Algoma Canyon Tour Train experience by developing other products and services to add to the train experience and develop a best operational model.
“The tourist market is looking for different experiences now. People want to try new activities and different ways of learning so we’re looking to add something more to the Algoma Canyon Tour Train,” Hollingsworth said.
Those experiences might include kayaking, mountain biking or hiking, among other things.
Macnaughton said Anderson’s vision includes developing a new schedule between the two trains that will allow visitors to the canyon to stay longer, visit some of the other communities and come back down on a passenger train.
“Having the same operator for both trains makes a lot of sense and perhaps can happen somewhere in the future,” she added.
While CAPT realizes the decision is out of city council’s purview, it can support the idea and urge the proper boards and authorities to consider the idea on its merits, she said.
Hollingsworth said the EDC is always willing to work with the Missanabie Cree First Nation to develop ways to increase tourism as it works to redefine the Agawa Canyon Tour Train and explore other opportunities.
Provenzano said if the city did receive any notice that CN Rail intends to pull out, then options would have to be examined at that time, and he anticipates the tour train could grow.
Macnaughton said CAPT continues to remain optimistic about the future of the passenger rail train between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.
“It’s very frustrating that Missanabie Cree has its operating certificate to run this service and they can’t get the funding from anywhere. We still believe it’s the federal government’s responsibility to provide funding for this remote area service,” Macnaughton said.
She also argues that the train service provides economic opportunities for the communities and First Nations along the line and supports the federal government’s intent to promote reconciliation with First Nations communities.
CAPT has also requested that Sault Ste. Marie MP Terry Sheehan, in his role as chair of the Northern Caucus, arrange a meeting to present the concept there and urge the federal government to approve train funding.
The passenger rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst was axed in 2014 after the Conservative federal government cut annual funding for the train. The government argued the area was accessible by roads. Since that time, lobby efforts have continued to convince government that the annual funding is necessary to connect the communities along the railway, promote tourism and provide a clean transportation option.
Dear Mr. Ouelette,
Thank you very much for contacting the office of MPP Guy Bourgouin. Mr. Bourgouin and the New Democrats concur with you in that northerners deserve better, safe and efficient transportation choices. An affordable, fast transit system benefits everyone, and connects people with opportunities and businesses.
For 15 years, the Liberals did nothing but close doors for northern Ontarians. By shutting down the Northlander in 2012 the Liberal government made life harder for families, students, seniors and people with disabilities who relied on the rail system to attend school or medical appoints, travel for work, or just see their friends and family across the province.
Doug Ford and his Conservative government is letting down northerners just like the Liberals did. Instead of moving forward with his campaign commitment Doug Ford has repeatedly refused to commit to restoring the Northlander when pressed by New Democrat members. Rather than ensuring northerners have reliable inter-city transportation Doug Ford is more concerned with taking control of Toronto’s subway system, as a first step towards privatization, and cutting funding for public transit.
Northern Ontarians deserve so much better. Andrea Horwath and Ontario New Democrats will continue to advocate for the Conservative government to reinstate the Ontario Northlander passenger rail service as well as provide funding for other northern rail projects such as the Huron Central and Algoma Central Rail Lines. New Democrats believe that our railway system must remain in public hands because privatization only makes the transit system less accountable to the rider and the public, while adding private profits onto transit fares. I am going to fight for you and all Northeastern Ontarians to get back what we deserve.
Thank you again for taking the time to write to us.
MPP for Mushkegowuk-James Bay