Meeting minutes – Essex, ON – November 10, 2012

NOVEMBER 10, 2012

Members Signing In: Hugh Gurney, Charles R. Merckel, Don Monteith, Rosemary Horvath, Julien R. Wolfe, Bob Tischbein, Jim Roach, Larry Krieg,Steve T. Sobel, Diane Patterson, Robert Patterson, Jim Hinkins, Kathleen Newell, Jim Wallington, Michael Frezell, Ren Farley, Harry Gow, Dan Platz, Dave Randall, Connie Randall, John Langdon, Tim Hoeffner, Doug Wilson

Also Present: Bill Gay, Jeanie Merckel, Scott Holland, Ken Westcarn, Dixie Westcarn, Robbie Gibson, Bill Shay

Call to Order:  Chairman Tischbein called the meeting to order at 10:45 a.m.

History of the Canada Southern Railway:  Doug Wilson introduced our first speaker, Essex Historian and Station Caretaker Bill Gay.

After welcoming all to the station, Gay sorrowfully confirmed the recent decision of CN to remove the rails running in front of the station, explaining that after serving Essex for so long, the former Canada Southern is the victim of the corporate machinations of the big railroads.  Built as a line linking Windsor to Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo, the Canada Southern Railway was purchased by the Vanderbilt family, which already controlled the Michigan Central Railroad. It was immediately incorporated into the New York Central System.  With its 241.6 miles of double track, the Canada Southern became a key part of the New York-Chicago route as it was 150 miles shorter than going around the south shore of Lake Erie.  The railroad thrived until the 1960’s, when the New York Central merged with the Pennsylvania Railroad to become the Penn-Central.  This merger was disastrous and resulted in bankruptcy.  Penn-Central’s successor, Conrail, had no interest in running trains through Canada.  The Canada Southern was sold in 1986 to CN CP, a consortium of CN and CP, who purchased it with the express intent of eliminating competition.  Over the years, CN CP has been dismantling the line, bit by bit.

The track in front of the station will be lifted as far as Fargo to the east and a point called Pelton on the west, which is 5-6 miles east of Windsor.  During the past week, a crew was seen removing clips from the track.

Originally, the Canada Southern crossed the Detroit River south of Windsor and Detroit.  by ferry from Amherstburg, Ontario, to Stony Island, then by bridge to Grosse Isle and by a second bridge to the mainland of Michigan.  This route was abandoned when the first Detroit-Windsor railroad tunnel was built shortly after 1900.   A branch line to Leamington enticed H. J. Heinz to locate there.  Despite a thriving business, CNCP discontinued that line a number of years ago.

The beautiful stone station in Essex was built in 1887.  The architect is unknown.  Also unknown is why the Canada Southern built such a handsome station in Essex, as most of its depots were far more utilitarian.  By 1990, the structure was in bad repair and might well have been bulldozed.  Fortunately, local citizens joined together to restore the structure.  A one year levy of about $65 on local rate payers covered costs.  The outside was restored in 1992 and the inside in 1993.  Except for the addition of washrooms and a new counter at the entrance, the building is as it was in its heyday as a train station.

Canada Rail Update:

Wilson next introduced Harry Gow, founder of Transport Action Canada.

After thanking America By Rail for paying his passage from Montreal and VIA Rail for transporting him to Windsor, Gow reported that the proposed new Detroit-Windsor rail tunnel accommodating double stack rail loads is still on the books.  Funding may come from the Building Canada Fund.  CP and Borealis, which holds a major stake in the project, will make a joint application.  The new tunnel can accommodate passenger rail. Unfortunately, the new VIA station in Walkerville is nowhere near the proposed tunnel portal, which complicates matters considerably.

Gow noted that he had spent a good part of his life and much of his own money to get what was first known as Transport Action 2000 underway.  The organization supports all forms of public transportation, particularly rail and interurban buses.  Many recognize the name Transport Action 2000 but have not assimilated the new name of Transport Action Canada. 

With a cut in its subsidy by the Canadian Federal Government, VIA has cut service to Sarnia to one train a day, the Ocean Limited  to Halifax from six times a week to three times a week, and in the winter will cut the cross country Canadian from three times a week to twice a week.   At the present time, the company has no fleet renewal strategy.

VIA’s current CEO comes from a freight rail background, and the organization has little accountability to the public, reporting to the Cabinet, not Parliament.  The VIA Board of Directors is made up mainly of political appointees.

To combat these unfortunate circumstances, Transport Action Canada has developed its National Dream Renewed, calling for a renewed commitment to passenger rail.  Starting with a town hall meeting in Sarnia, Transport Action has held public forums throughout Eastern Canada.  The hope is that the squeaky wheel will alert enough of the public to bring about a change in attitude by the government.  Many in Eastern Quebec and New Brunswick are outraged, as cuts in the Ocean Limited service will now require an overnight stay in Quebec City or Moncton when they go there for medical appointments.  In Ontario, reductions in service are affecting employment opportunities in Kitchener and on the Niagara Peninsula.  Even wherecommuter rail or bus service is available, people with disabilities find it harder to get around.

 The last of the Eastern National Dream Renewed forums are scheduled for mid November, with more planned for Western Canada in the new year, after which a report will be made to all Members of Parliament and to the federal government, including a specific proposal to Parliament.  Taking a leaf from NARP’s and MARP’s book, Transport Action will work very closely with the legislators to bring about desired changes. 

Gow attributed the demise of the Northlander connecting Toronto with Cochrane to feuding within the Ontario Parliament between the dominant Liberal party which is stronger in the heavily populated southern part of the province with the less numerous New Democratic Party which is stronger in the sparsely settled north.  Premier Dalton McGinty, who ordered the cuts, resigned his post recently, but the bloodletting continues.

Gow is hopeful that the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) will take the lead in fighting for the restoration of the Northlander as well as reestablishment of rail service between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, Ontario.  Greyhound has reduced service to Sault Ste. Marie to one or two frequencies a day.  CAPT has the support of the northern municipalities and played a part in bringing Indian Trails bus service into Sault Ste. Marie, from Michigan’s Lower Peninsula.  Gow takes heart in the fact that young workers in northern Ontario are very supportive of passenger rail as a way to get to and from population centers.

From VIA Rail’s nascent interest in better bus-rail connections in Eastern Canada, Gow sees hope for a Thruway bus system similar to that existing in the United States.  He would love to see Indian Trails expand its service into Ontario.

Adjournment:  The monthly membership meeting adjourned at 12:00 p.m.


Respectfully submitted:                                              Accepted:

Hugh D. Gurney                                                         Robert Tischbein

Secretary                                                                     Chair