Rally to save Algoma rail service

If you live in Toronto, or Ottawa, you probably don’t think much about road closures due to extreme weather, but up here in the North, when Highway 17 closes, we notice. Flights are just as tenuous and weather dependant. When have you heard of a train cancellation due to weather?

Rail is reliable, but in Canada, rail is lagging behind. While European tourism hums with their light rail systems, here in Canada we begin to reminisce of train travel like a romantic concept of yesteryear. It seems that our Ministries of Transportation are fast shifting lanes to becoming Ministries of Highways, but it doesn’t have to be that way… and you can show your support for passenger rail on March 6.

In the United States there has been a call for infrastructure investment in light rail to keep economic growth purring, or at least stop it from coughing up hairballs. Where is the investment in rail in Canada?

We have the tracks, but they’re getting so old that soon the ties will only be good for retaining walls in gardens. Rail is not only reliable, but it is also the most environmentally friendly method of rapid transportation.

A year ago, it was announced that the Federal funding for the Algoma Central Railroad line would be ending, and with that, CN was uninterested in maintaining passenger rail on the Sault to Hearst Line.

Fortunately, stakeholders banded together and the Feds gave them a year extension to come up with a third party operator for passenger service. The Working Group found a train operator and developed a plan for sustainable rail service.

They have also been in contact with Transport Canada as the sunset for the funding looms, but the negotiations with the third party rail operator are not finalized. With any luck, on March 6, negotiations with an operator will have concluded and we’ll hear who it is on. Symmetrically, the event is on the proposed new site of rail station; and once again we all look to Mill Square.

Sponsored by the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, the Northeast Superior Chiefs Forum, Missanabie Cree First Nation and Riversedge Developments, the organizers are asking for the community to join the rally (indoors) in the Machine Shop at 7pm on March 6. This free community event is one of several stops for the “Support Algoma’s Train Event” where you can learn more about rail service, the people it impacts, and how rail contributes to the community. The organizers are bringing in speakers and displays to inform, as well as musicians to entertain, and drummers showing their support.

I contacted Linda Savory-Gordon about the event and she said: “We have a well-developed plan for sustainable passenger rail service, but we need transition funding to make this a reality. We’re looking for only $7 million over five years, which is much less than the previous $2.2 million per year.”

It sounds to me like these folks don’t want a handout, they want a hand up, and they have the plan to make it happen.

Savory-Gordon excitedly talked about all of the new product development opportunities. She quotes the BDO report stating that the old service brought in a conservative $38-48 million annually to the region, and that with the new operator, those numbers can be doubled.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to boost eco-tourism and Indigenous cultural tourism with our regional and First Nations’ partners. From more events like the sold-out Searchmont Polar Express ride, and the sold-out Group of Seven train event, to a new game preserve and Anishinaabe cultural experiences, we’re excited about the future direction and how it can impact the economy of the area.”

The group will have t-shirts and a few remaining calendars for sale, but this is not a fundraising event. CAPT is looking to raise awareness of this crucial infrastructure, and wants the community to show they care about rail.

“If this funding is not extended, the ACR and the businesses along the rail will be hobbled: and those jobs, gone. We’d be saying goodbye to the $38-48 million annually in economic benefits from hotel rooms to selling fishing bait. We’d also lose a reliable method of transportation for people coming to medical appointments and students coming to the Sault for postsecondary.”

“We hope people will come and show their support for passenger rail.”

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