(Photo credit from Brendan Sutherland)
The following is a direct story as told by Brendan Sutherland, Hearst native and current student in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario,
“Being a student moving away for university is challenging enough but with the added stress of inaccessibility – it becomes even worse. My name is Brendan Sutherland and I am a student attending Algoma University in Sault Ste Marie. I was born and raised in Hearst which is roughly 6 hours north of the Sault.
When deciding where I should attend university after completing high school, I knew I wanted to stay in the north rather than venturing far south which is what most of my classmates did. Algoma University seemed like a perfect choice. It had small class sizes, one-on-one time with professors, and a focus on indigenous content. It quickly became apparent that travel was going to be an issue. Traveling to the Sault from Hearst by car is about 6 hours. In the rough winter weather, it becomes even longer and more dangerous due to roads not being plowed regularly and ice buildup. Traveling by bus is even more of a headache. There is no bus route that travels directly between Sault Ste Marie and Hearst. Instead the ride takes you from the Sault, to Sudbury, North Bay, Earlton, Timmins, and finally to Hearst. The trip would take 32 hours one way with 4 transfers which is completely unrealistic for a student wanting to visit home for the weekend. The bus trip takes 64 hours in total. In previous years, the bus trip was somewhat shorter by going from Sault, to Sudbury, Timmins, then Hearst but it has increased in transfers and travel time in the past year alone. The bus also only travels on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, the bus does travel to White River which is 3 hours away from Hearst but you would have to plan for someone to pick you up and drive the remaining 3 hours to Hearst.
Another option for students is to book a flight to a nearby airport. There is no airline service to Hearst. Bearskin Airlines flies between Sault Ste Marie and Kapuskasing. These flights can be out of a student’s financial reach with most flights costing at least $500 one-way. The entire trip could cost a student roughly $1,000. However, these flights have been reported to be ending service sometime soon. Porter Airlines flies between Sault Ste Marie and Timmins but the students would have to make travel arrangements to get back to Hearst which takes 3 hours by automobile from Timmins.
Reinstating the Algoma passenger rail service is the ideal solution to these problems. Before the passenger service was cancelled I could take the train home to visit my family. It was ideal because it was a safe way to travel quickly home. I could bring luggage and items with me which would be impossible on a bus or plane. The inaccessibility discourages students in the north from studying in the north. This is especially important for small institutions like Algoma University and Sault College because it can affect their enrollment and student population. Reinstating the passenger rail service benefits students which I feel people often forget about in this equation.
In conclusion, this is a summary of the public transportation decline for students between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst over the past 3 years:
• 2014: Safe, all season passenger train service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst
• 2015: No passenger train service
• 2016: Bus service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst: approximately 30 hours one way or 60 hours round-trip (Sault to Sudbury to Timmins to Hearst)
• 2017: Bus service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst: approximately 32 hours one way or 64 hours round-trip (Sault to Sudbury, North Bay, Earlton, Timmins and Hearst)
• 2017: Passenger train service still not available”
For more information on the initiative to renew passenger rail in the North, please visit us at our website.