Passenger rail policies: procrastination over progress

The provincial government unveiled a fancy new proposal titled Connecting the North: A draft transportation plan for Northern Ontario. The MTO has indicated they are exploring options for passenger rail services between Toronto, North Bay, Timmins and Cochrane.

However, the proposal fails to answer one obvious question: When exactly is our train supposed to return?

Last month, the province completed yet again another survey it claims will help the bureaucracy better understand the needs of Northerners. The ministry insists the public’s feedback will help shape the transportation system in the region.

These exercises seem awfully reminiscent of a certain report produced just a few years ago … the Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Study.

Other than accelerating work on a track audit for “potential future train service“, what exactly is the government doing to ensure it fulfills its promise to restore the Northlander … prior the next election?

Between you and me, this appears no more than an attempt to rehash recycled rail rhetoric. A train tease if you will.

Quote : “… the #PCPO will bring back Ontario Northland passenger rail service by the end of our mandate!” — MPP for Nipissing, Facebook post (November 25, 2017)

Recently, the MPP for Nipissing indicated that the loss of ticket facilities and other installations at Toronto’s Union Station complicates things. This is not the most enthusiastic approach to problem solving, however there are obvious solutions.

For one, GO Transit is equipped with ticketing booths and machines that accept cash and plastic card payments at Union Station and throughout the rest of its network. In addition, GO Transit riders can purchase electronic tickets on VIA Rail’s website.

Does the Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade really expect Northerners to believe that a similar arrangement couldn’t be achieved between one or both of these crown corporations and Ontario Northland?

Pre-pandemic, Union Station’s 16 platforms were able to take in 388 GO trains and 53 VIA trains daily (Monday to Friday).

This represents an average of:

  • 7.4 trains per track in the morning
  • 8.7 in the middle of the day
  • 7.3 in the evening
  • 4.1 at night

Does our MPP now think this government controlled facility can’t possibly accommodate one more inbound and outbound passenger train a day? Wasn’t the alliance between Metrolinx (GO) and Ontario Northland supposed to resolve these concerns?

In the latest provincial budget, the government announced 28.5 billion on subway expansion in the GTA and one billion on capital funding for transportation and transit in Hamilton. For its part, the Auditor General revealed that Metrolinx’s expenses shot up 80% (187 million dollars) over the past four years.

Meanwhile in Northern Ontario, we can’t even get a firm commitment as to when we can expect the return of our train.

This whole situation reminds me of the student who doesn’t open their textbook until midway through the semester, and just now realizes they have a research project to complete in less than half the time.

Quote: “My shift will be further north and the reinstatement of passenger rail from Toronto to Cochrane. As you know, it’s in the PC Party’s People’s Guarantee to reinstate passenger rail. There are many examples that we have, whether it’s in the north, in Hearst or Cochrane, and you’re in a wheelchair and you’re trying to get to your medical appointment in Toronto, and your only alternative now is a dozen-hour bus ride as opposed to the rail.” — MPP for Nipissing, Standing committee on Finance and Economic Affairs (January 18, 2018)

Northerners have been patient long enough since their beloved Northlander was unjustly removed from service eight years ago. They’re counting on the MPP for Nipissing, the minister of Transportation and the premier to deliver on their campaign promise before the end of their term.

Excuses and lip service aren’t going to cut it.

PUBLISHED : Monday, December 14, 2020

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