Letter to the Editor : Northern Ontario Passenger Rail

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Trains Needed Outside of Toronto

The recent launch of the UP Express to move travelers via rail from Pearson Airport to downtown Toronto is a good move to ease traffic congestion and pollution in Canada’s largest city. All levels of government in Ontario now need to demonstrate the same commitment to rail travel outside of the GTA.

In the case of Northern Ontario, the expansion of passenger trains connects to public safety. Winters in the North bring real hazards of snow and ice on highways for a good part of the year. The last form of transportation to be stopped by winter is a train. Long after cars and buses have been parked and planes grounded, trains still run.

The 2012 cancellation of the Northlander, which ran from Cochrane to Toronto, has effectively put a number of citizens on that route at risk if they attempt to drive or take a bus in the winter to make a medical appointment in a southern city. Residents between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury along the Trans-Canada Highway face similar challenges if trying to access treatment in either of those cities.

There is also looming demographic pressure from two groups at opposite ends of the age spectrum that will push for a return to train travel. As the baby boomers age and live longer, they will outlive their ability to drive but will still be healthy enough for travel, with flying not necessarily an option or choice. The comfort, space and amenities of a train greatly outweigh anything offered by bus.

The younger millennial generation is also an emerging client base for rail as many of them are forgoing owning a car and seek public transit choices to match career and lifestyle. A government and/or entrepreneur would be rewarded for meeting the needs of the two largest demographic groups in North America.

In the short-term for Northern Ontario, the Northlander service should be returned and passenger service between the Soo and Sudbury reinstated (it ran until 1976). A combination of private capital and public support could make that happen. There is a coming rail renaissance; will you be “on board” with it? Let your representatives know if you are.

Chad Beharriell
Iron Bridge, ON

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