Passenger Rail Advocates Protest Feds Ax to Funding in Northern Ontario

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Editor’s Note: The recent decision by the federal government to once again axe annual funding to the tune of $5.3 million has spurred residents in Northern Ontario- and beyond, to take up their quills. The Remote Passenger Rail Program provides funding to ensure that safe, reliable, viable and sustatinablee rail services are provided to certain areas of the country where these services are the only means of surface transportation for remote communities. Below are two letters composed Britta Wolfert of Wabos Ontario and Harry Gow of Saint-Antoine-sur Richelieu, Quebec. Send your own letter and pictures to: Honourable Transportation Minister, Marc Garneau: marc.garneau@parl.gc.ca and cc our local Member of Parliament Terry Sheehan: Terry.Sheehan@parl.gc.ca

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Dear Hon. Transportation Minister Marc Garneau,

Thank you for your brief visit to Sault Ste Marie. Sadly, you and politicians in your office have
not taken time to truly understand our local Passenger Train issue and Northern Canadian way of life.

You have not heard from everyone yet? Well, Minister Marc Garneau, not everyone here has the know-how, internet access, cell phone access (including myself), time, energy and ability to write letters and express themselves on their own behalf. They simply feel helpless.

This is only one aspect Ottawa perhaps does not understand about remote communities.

By pulling funding from the 100 year old historic Northern Ontario Passenger Train from Sault Ste Marie – Hearst, you are directly discriminating against generations of families, businesses and indigenous communities along the line.

We know a young man from a Hearst indigenous community and going to high school in SSM, who took the train back and forth to see his family (only one example).

Seniors will never be able to see their remote property again. Family values people worked so hard for generations to establish…gone.

Your decision has practically disowned Canadians: Buildings now stand abandoned and are left to cave in.

Note: ‘Is that even legal here in Canada, a prospering, human rights abiding country…?’

Numerous missed opportunities for the FOREVER poorly advertised Passenger Train and SSM tourism infrastructure and for new Canadians.

So many more reasons.

Hon. Transportation Minister Marc Garneau: Northern Ontario may look small from out of space, but it takes a breathtaking day to travel from SSM-Hearst. A Day!

Here we have the privilege to share ancient Canadian Shield scenery and realistic skin deep educational, non-internet, Canadian travel experience, safe for all ages and not found anywhere else in the World.

Also, our young people, seniors, families, travel worldwide by train, but Canada goes backwards..?!

How many white knuckle drives in winter and car accidents on two lane highways across Canada does it take for Canadian politicians to take note and to learn the value in Passenger Train travel?!

Have you traveled the line, Minister Garneau?

You have broken many hearts and traditions here and we are very disappointed, but not about to give up.

We cannot give up this treasure, this testimony and testament in engineering, hard Canadian labour and construction, because that would simply not be Canadian.

Besides this very real plea, international train travel is the way of the future and cannot be underestimated.

The Passenger Train has not run for a year.

Livelihoods, moral and buildings are deteriorating.

In the name of your many recently disappointed constituents, we ask you to take your political responsibility seriously: Please review and reverse your decision promptly so to ease further devastating hardship.

Conscience, sense of responsibility and common sense beg to alert you that this Passenger Train is owed to Canadians ~ now.

Sincerely,

Britta Wolfert

Wabos, Ontario

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Subject: Cancelled support for remote he train from Sault-Ste-Marie to Hearst

Dear Minister Marc Garneau:

I am writing you to protest  you decision to cut off promised operating assistance to the remote rail passenger service form Sault Ste Marie to Hearst, as described in the article from the Sault Star copied below ‘Fed train aid goes off the rails’ by Brian Kelly. Your statement reproduced here is inaccurate and disingenuous: Transport Canada is pulling $5.3 million in support for passenger rail service north of Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst because “most” of the communities along the rail line have access to highways. He said his department’s remote rail passenger program is only available when rail “is literally the only way to get in and out” of communities. Most of them (communities between the Sault and Hearst) have other alternate ways of accessing highways,” Garneau said following a funding announcement at Sault Ste. Marie Airport on Wednesday.

Saying that most of the communities between the Sault and Hearst have “other alternative ways of accessing highways” is inadequate to say the least.  As one who has travelled the whole line in recent times, I can vouch for the fact that at most of the stops on the line there were no roads in sight, and reliable local information indicates in most cases other than Dubreuilville and Hawk Juction there is no road access for communities, resorts and wilderness access points over most of the line. The “alternative ways of accessing communities” perforce includes use of amphibious aircraft, snowmobiles, ATVs on rough logging roads when they are open, and so on. This is just not the kind of access that will satisfy the needs of the people that need to travel in the area.

Looking at the region using Google Maps, as I am told your predecessor’s Transport Canada staff did when formulating the recommendation to cease funding the line is no substitute for doing on-the-ground research on local conditions.  May I ask you to re-open this file, verify the facts on the ground and with the people living, recreating and working along the line and restore funding for this vital remote access service.

Yours for truth in public administration,

Harry Gow, MSW, Transport consultant (and founder of several rural transit systems)

Saint-Antoine-sur Richelieu, Québec

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(feature image, courtesy Britta Wolfert. Trestle across Montreal River Dam)

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