The Coalition for Algoma Passenger Train held a media session on Monday morning. Their goal was to put a face to what is said to be an unreasonable and unresearched decision by Minister of Transport Marc Garneau. According to Garneau, the Sault to Hearst passenger rail line does not meet Transport Canada’s criteria for funding under its Remote Passenger Rail Program (RPRP). “It is only used in cases where rail is literally the only way to get in and out of the communities (and) our judgement is that the Sault to Hearst rail line, the communities along there, most of them have alternative ways of accessing highways. We have to reserve funding for where railways are the only source, the only way to move around, and there are a couple in Canada where we’re doing that.”
To tell the tale yet again… When the previous Conservative government cut the annual $2.2 million subsidy to CN (which owns the Sault to Hearst passenger rail line) lobbyists including CAPT were able to secure $5.3 million in funding over three years to keep the passenger train running. Railmark was the operator of choice by the Sault Ste. Marie Economic Development Corporation (SSMEDC) becoming the third party operator – running the Algoma Passenger Train from the Sault to Hearst and back. CN maintained ownership and operations of the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. Service on the passenger train route ceased in July 2015 after the city of Sault Ste. Marie declined to sign a funding agreement, citing Railmark’s failure to secure a line of credit.
There was no notice given to residents to retrieve any belongings – a heartbreak to many because of the personal objects that were left behind. Some have three generations of belongings and memories. Callously, there wasn’t even a train in the fall so that people could go back in and at least winterize and/or secure their properties.
Since that time lodge owners have seen a significant decline in their business, through the end of last summer and this year’s season. The story hasn’t been really heard though from the private owners who have to go to great extents to access their property, and have been in some cases forced to skirt the law, really, to break the law to gain access to their property. CAPT has researched and for 400 km of the 472 km of that line there is no road access. Beyond that access for a camp owner or lodge owner is a hodge podge of using abandoned logging roads, logging roads that mean you have to dodge picket trucks, private gated roads, rivers, lakes, cliff climbing… or if you can afford it and you are on a large enough lake – chartering a plane.
Several took the opportunity to tell just how they are getting to their camps these days. Saultites, Al and Joan Johnston, have quite the trek to get to their camp 77 kilometres north of the Sault. Their journey in means parking their vehicle near Harmony Bay, using a four wheeler on an operating logging road, then a 30-year-old logging road, through the bush, over logs and dry creek beds, winching the ATV up a bluff, then riding the ATV beside the tracks to the cottage. On the lake there are five cottages, two are owned by Canadians, the other two by Americans. You have to be determined!
The stories continue, watch the video to hear them speak about the difficulties and risks that they take. Hopefully staff at Transport Canada watch the video in it’s entirety, to understand the impact of their decision. Linda Savory-Gordon said, “We would really like Transport Canada to listen to the actual facts, to acknowledge this really is a remote rail corridor, I think the government is trying to save some money. Northern Ontario has a sparse population and fewer voters, maybe they think they can get away with making some cuts with us.”
In early July Garneau, during his visit to the Sault, said the file would therefore be turned over to Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC). Linda Savory-Gordon’s reply to that “We have a business plan, we have a strategic plan that includes a business plan, everything’s in place, it’s not INAC’s responsibility to provide transportation, it’s Transport Canada… The mission statement of Transport Canada is to provide public, usable, safe transportation, and we don’t have that.”
There has been a petition set up (https://petitions.parl.gc.ca/en/Petition/Details?Petition=e-501) but unfortunately it will not allow US citizens to sign. MyWawa would like to invite them to make their video statement and email a link to this website so that it can be posted in a video article for Minister Garneau to view.