Northerners who travel great distances in the winter months have experienced a significant number of transportation-related delays and inconveniences to close out 2016. Over a seven-week period, motorists encountered a total of 90 closures or blockages due to automobile or weather related incidents in the region.
On November 24, Highway 11, one of Northern Ontario’s primary roadways, was closed for nearly 24 hours due to a transport truck collision near Tonomo Lake Road, near the community of Marten River. Residents along this corridor between North Bay and Temiskaming Shores were left stranded, as the province could not provide a detour or an alternative mode of transportation to circumvent the incident.
A week before the Holidays in December, Highway 17 was closed repeatedly over a four day period due to poor weather, blockages or collisions between the communities of Wawa, Sault Ste. Marie and Blind River. According to the Ministry of Transportation’s #511ONNortheast Twitter feed, the Trans-Canada highway was shut down on 16 separate occasions. Detours were either not an option or simply non-existent.
Around the same time period, commercial air travelers were affected by delays or unexpected layovers due to a fuel shortage at the Victor M. Power Airport in Timmins. Finally, one day after the arrival of 2017, a motor vehicle accident involving a propane truck near Gogama resulted in a 28-hour closure of Highway 144, the only road linking the cities of Greater Sudbury and Timmins.
These incidents, among others, are a clear demonstration of the gaps that exist within the Northern Ontario transportation network, and the need to reinstate passenger train services in the region.
Within the last month, the province introduced weekend GO Train service between Barrie and Toronto, as well as the extension of the Richmond Hill GO Train to the Town of Gormley.
Meanwhile, in Northern Ontario, families, seniors, and students are forced to endure the inevitable consequences from frequent highway closures and the lack of transportation alternatives readily accessible to many Southern Ontarians. Residents of Sault Ste. Marie and the North Shore of Lake Huron are confined to one scheduled Eastbound and Westbound motor coach run to and from Sudbury. (Editor’s Note: the same difficulty is faced by anyone travelling the Hwy 17 corridor between Sault Ste. Marie and Thunder Bay via Greyhound. From Wawa, there is one bus at eastward at 4:30 in the afternoon, and one going west at 3:05 in the morning.) As a result, there are instances where Northerners are left stranded due to a limited supply of unreserved seating on the bus.
Additionally, for the second time in three years, public transportation between the communities of Hearst and Longlac has been suspended indefinitely.
The province indicates in its latest discussion paper for the Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Study (NOMTS) that it wishes to improve long-distance, regional and local intercommunity bus services. Yet, the province’s highway infrastructure in Northern Ontario is incapable of or is far too vulnerable and unreliable to deliver on this recommendation in the event of closures, weather related incidents or natural disasters. It is with irony that the region’s adjacent rail lines, which have proven to be time and again a safe and reliable mode of transportation for people and goods elsewhere in the province and country, remain underutilized or idle along the Northern Ontario Trans-Canada highways corridors.
The Federal Government refuses to fund and reinstate the Algoma Central passenger rail service, while Queen’s Park resists to the need to revive the Northlander passenger train.
Canada is the second largest country in the world. Ontario is the second largest province in Canada. Therefore, both Canada and Ontario have substantial challenges transporting both goods and people that are significantly complicated by winter. Canada and Ontario have become primarily dependent on road transportation. Roads are very effective for short distance and local transportation but are inefficient, costly and intimidating for long distances. Long distance driving, especially in winter, also risks public safety. Dependence on road transportation is also a barrier to socio-economic opportunity for those who cannot, or do not drive, because of physical, mental or financial disability or discomfort over long-distance or winter driving. Much of Ontario and Canada’s roads are overburdened which leads to accelerated deterioration and the need for very expensive road reconstruction and expansion. Air transportation in Ontario and Canada is fast but expensive and very limited in destinations. Air travel also suffers from many of the same winter and weather hazards as roads. Rail transportation is deteriorating and eroding, and rail is now a very limited and decreasing in opportunity for both passenger transportation or competitive freight.
About the Northern & Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN)
NEORN is a grassroots organization advocating for the retention of existing rail corridors and the reinstatement of the passenger train and corresponding shuttle services throughout the Districts of Algoma, Cochrane, Greater Sudbury, Kenora, Manitoulin, Muskoka, Nipissing, Parry Sound, Rainy River, Sudbury, Thunder Bay and Timiskaming.
Northern Ontario has a network of approximately 6 000 kilometres of rail interlinking a significant portion of municipalities & First Nations throughout the region.There are many economic, environmental, practical, social and health factors that contribute to the importance of providing frequent and reliable passenger train service for communities, businesses, and visitors looking to explore & travel great distances throughout the Cambrian Shield.
NEORN is actively attempting to demonstrate to the provincial & federal governments the need for publicly supported investments in this endeavor, as is the case in every other jurisdiction in Canada.