The federal government’s recent decision to once again revoke the annual funding of the Algoma Central passenger train service between Sault Ste. Marie, Hawk Junction and Hearst is a clear indication of the level of inequality between urban and remote transportation priorities in Canada.
All levels of government in Canada invest billions of dollars annually in public transportation infrastructure & services throughout the country. VIA Rail Canada, the nation’s official intercity passenger rail carrier, received 317.1 million dollars in operating funding and 80.9 million dollars in capital funding from the federal government in 2014. Metrolinx receives two billion dollars in base annual funding from the province.
This crown corporation of the province of Ontario also benefits from an additional one to two billion dollars in combined funding from the federal and provincial governments.
Unfair treatment to Northern Ontarians
Northern Ontarians are however being held to a different standard than other Southern Ontarian and their Canadian counterparts. Despite a collaborative effort by the various municipal & First Nations stakeholders of the Algoma Central working group to develop a not-for-profit transportation authority, the federal government is refusing to fund intercity passenger rail services between Sault Ste. Marie, Hawk Junction and Hearst like it does throughout the rest of the country.
Without any prior public consultation, the government eliminated the 2.2 million dollars of funding allocated to the Algoma Central once in 2014, and now for a second time in 2016.
Previously in 2012, the provincial government eliminated the Northlander between Toronto, North Bay and Cochrane. Similarly to the Algoma Central, the stakeholders of the region were not consulted when the province decided to eliminate the 11 million dollars that were dedicated annually to the operation of this essential intercity passenger train service. In addition, VIA Rail’s own vision plan for 2016 to 2020 calls for a further reduction in service of the Canadian passenger train; rerouted between Sudbury, Chapleau, Thunder Bay, Dryden and Winnipeg. There is also no mention of a replacement train service between Capreol, Hornepayne, Longlac, Sioux Lookout and Winnipeg.
Train service essential to the region
As demonstrated in the NEORN’s submission to the Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Study (NOMTS) earlier this month (available here : http://neorn.ca/neorn-submission-to-nomts-soumission-de-neorn-a-letmno/ ), Northern Ontario has a road network that is increasingly fragile due to climate change, natural disasters and automobile collisions. Between 2011 and 2014, the Northeastern portion of the province experienced a total of 674 highway closures.
With the lack of a grid-like road network as found in Southern Ontario, residents and travellers are simply unable to circumvent road closures due to accidents, weather related incidents, forest fires, floods and in some instances, sink holes. As a consequence for a lack of road-based transportation alternatives, Northern Ontario communities are left with little to no transportation options when disaster strikes.
The current state of inequality between rural/remote and urban transportation infrastructure is unacceptable in a supposedly developed nation like Canada. As a result, residents of this region are faced with many barriers to employment, education, and access to health care. Northern Ontario has a network of approximately 6,000 kilometres of rail interlinking a signicant portion of municipalities and First Nations throughout the region on which passenger train service can be reinstated. There are a number of economic, environmental, practical, social and health factors that contribute to the importance of frequent and reliable passenger train service for communities, businesses and visitors looking to explore and travel great distances throughout the Cambrian Shield.
Utilizing the existing rail corridor infrastructure, the federal & provincial governments must provide equitable funding in passenger trains and corresponding motor coach / marine services in Northern Ontario. The federal government must also halt any current or future abandonment of rail corridors.
Transportation of minerals by rail is up to seven times more fuel efficient per ton/mile than by transport truck. The failure to maintain and preserve rail corridors like the Algoma Central will result in a lost opportunity for economic & environmentally sustainable modes of transportation for current & future resource extraction (example : the Ring of Fire).
Many communities located along the Algoma Central Railway have no publicly maintained or industrial bush road access.