Critical rail link to Ottawa in jeopardy

News release from Nordik Institute:

SAULT STE. MARIE, ON (October 25, 2011) – Ninety-five kilometers of rail that connect Northern Ontario to Ottawa, Montreal and the East Coast are slated to be torn up.

This rail is critical to Northern Ontario’s economic opportunities that depend on rail transportation.

Also, opportunity to develop passenger train service from Northern Ontario to Ottawa and Eastern Canada would be lost.

Serpent River First Nation hosted a meeting Saturday of EACMR (East Algoma chiefs, mayors and reeves), CAPT (Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains), TPR (Transport Pontiac Renfrew), Transport Action Canada and regional provincial and federal politicians.

Rick Hamilton, mayor of Elliot Lake, chaired the meeting.

A ribbon of rail consisting of the Ontario Northland Railway along with underused and orphaned rail belonging to CN and CP has been identified as infrastructure that interconnects the communities, First Nations, people and businesses of Northeastern Ontario to Ottawa and Toronto as a foundation of socio-economic opportunity.

CP’s Mattawa-to-Pembroke rail that links to Ottawa is in abandonment procedures and scheduled to be torn up.

TPR described the process for saving the CN rail link and illustrated the impact of the Mattawa-to-Pembroke Rail link to the rail connectivity of Northern Ontario.

This is the last direct rail link from Northern Ontario to Eastern Canada.

If lost rail freight from Northern Ontario would have to be hauled 18 additional hours through Toronto to reach Eastern Canada resulting in higher costs.

For passenger trains there would be no possibility of taking trains from Northern Ontario to Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City and Halifax without first routing through Toronto.

Harry Gow, co-chair of TPR stated: “Canadian Pacific has started lifting the tracks between Pembroke and Smiths Falls, but there is still hope to save the line from Pembroke west, thus preserving Northeastern Ontario’s link for freight and passengers to Ottawa, MontrĂ©al and the eastern seaboard.”

“The Mattawa-to-Pembroke rail link is critical to economic opportunity for Northern Ontario,” says Hamilton. “Trains are efficient and cost effective all-season transportation for both goods and people that Ontario needs for our economy, quality of life and environmental responsibility” said Al Errington of CAPT.

“In a time of economic uncertainty and change, what we need is our various jurisdictions working together, coming from a position of strength. Tearing out infrastructure at this time is not only a step backward, it’s simply not prudent from a long-term planning perspective. Rail has been critical to northern economies for over a century and it will continue to be vital for years into the future. A Northern Growth Plan for this region of the province needs rail service to stay on track. In today’s competitive global economy rail is essential infrastructure,” says Chief Isadore Day of Serpent River First Nation.

The group of diverse interests and communities has committed to aggressively pursuing saving this critical rail link and promoting the expansion of rail passenger and freight opportunities for Northern Ontario through public education and political lobbying.

Trains and effective transportation options are important to the economy, quality of life and the environment.

The EACMR passed a resolution supporting saving the Mattawa to Pembroke rail link and will be contacting other municipalities throughout Northeastern encouraging their support.

Chief Isadore Day has been appointed as the EACMR’s delegate for this issue to upcoming municipal meetings on Ontario’s Northern Growth Plan.

The politicians in attendance committed to bringing the rail link situation to the attention of both the federal and provincial parliaments.

A feasibility study on a functional Northeastern Ontario Passenger Rail network will be fast tracked by CAPT.