From The Northern Hoot:
Members of the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) and all parties that have a concern for continued passenger rail service along the ACR are feeling hopeful and excited. CAPT has dedicated several years to raising awareness about the economic, cultural and environmental benefit of passenger trains in the Algoma District.
In January 2014 the Canadian National Railway Company (CN) announced that they were axing passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst. The decision came from Transport Canada who made the decision that the Algoma Central Rail (ACR) no longer met the criteria for the Remote Passenger Rail Program (RPRP).
RPRP “provides funding to ensure that safe, reliable, viable and sustainable passenger rail services are provided to certain areas of the country where these services are the only means of surface transportation for remote communities.”
Following Raitt’s announcement the City of Sault Ste. Marie struck up a committee, Algoma Passenger Rail, comprised of numerous stakeholders including CAPT. The committee has been frantically scrambling to find a way to continue running passenger rail service along the ACR- and their hard work has proven fruitful.
“We have four very credible third parties that are all interested in taking over the passenger train and the Agawa Canyon Tour train,” said Al Errington, co-founder of CAPT.
Errington anticipates that the third parties expressing interest are keen to do much more than maintain the status quo along the ACR. “I really feel very confident that we are looking at the passenger train making a much greater impact on economic and employment opportunities.”
Dr. Linda Savory-Gordon, co-founder of CAPT, bubbled over the prospects. “The possibilities are really unlimited. These companies are really interested in passenger trains. They are passionate about doing a good job with passenger service and they want to be creative and innovative.”
Errington added, “CN is anxious to get this moving forward as well. It’s not in their culture to run passenger trains. They did it because they were required to. I think the requirement was correct however, making a company that doesn’t want to provide passenger service doesn’t work very well.”
The ACR was the only passenger service that largest freight company in North America- CN, operated.
It is anticipated that the third party operator will be identified towards the end of November. Algoma Passenger Rail and CN will collaborate on the decision.
It is important to note that this great progress does not negate the continued need for RPRP investment.
“Regardless of who takes on the role as third party operator we really do need to have investment from Transport Canada,” commented Gordon. “We have shown in our study that the 2.2 million from the investment produced 38 million dollars of benefit to the regional economy. If the government continues to invest we could be producing much more with a really great passenger service.”
According to the Ministry of Transport two rail services are in receipt of the RPRP investment: Keewatin Railway (passenger rail service between The Pas, MB and Pukatawagan, MB), as well as Tshiuetin Railway (passenger rail service between Sept-Îles and Schefferville, QC).
In an effort to encourage the government to continue the RPRP investment to the ACR, CAPT has launched a post card campaign. You can visit the CAPT website to find out how to acquire these post cards.
The Ministry of Transport justified taking away the RPRP investment from the ACR recently stating, “Algoma Central Railway operates a passenger service in a rural region where other transportation options, including local highways are available. Established, year-round communities along the rail line, which at one point relied on the railway as their only means of access, now have other transportation options.”
However what may not have been taken in to consideration – in addition to the economic benefit to the region, is that there are tremendous distances between communities in the North and the real concern for safety on the highway – especially during Northern Ontario’s dramatic winter months.
Errington believes that Northerners must continue to emphasize to both levels of government that investment in Algoma’s passenger rail service is an economic deal breaker. “The transportation of people and goods are fundamentals of a successful economy. If we don’t do that well, and I don’t think we have been, then the other countries that we compete with who have a better transportation matrix will succeed far more readily than we will. Keep telling our politicians that we need our rail.”