Category Archives for "Intercity Rail and Bus"

Oct 07

Bear Train Refined Business Plan Submitted to Transport Canada – Media Release

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Press Releases and Open Letters

Our affiliate, the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains (CAPT) issued the following media release regarding exciting news about the Bear Train.

On Friday, October 4, 2019, Chief Jason Gauthier, Chief of Missanabie Cree First Nation sent to Deputy Minister Michael Keenan a newly completed business plan for the proposed Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban (Cree for Bear Train) passenger service between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst. This third iteration of the business plan is more thorough, detailed and complete than the previous ones presented to Transport Canada. All of the many stakeholder groups from the Algoma rail corridor as well as several rail experts were consulted and contributed to the final version of the plan.

 This detailed business plan will illustrate to Transport Canada that Missanabie Cree First Nation (MCFN) has now completed the requirements to ensure the operation of this essential service.  The other requirements that they had previously successfully accomplished are:

      i.       Receipt of a Railway Operating Certificate

     ii.       Completion of a safety plan

The plan indicates how operational funding for the Bear Train from Transport Canada, that decreases over a period of five years, will be an excellent investment in at least three ways. It is a very low-cost way for the Federal Government to achieve a triple win by contributing to its objectives:

                           i.        Contribute to Reconciliation with Indigenous people

                          ii.        Mitigate Climate Change

                         iii.        Support Economic Development & increase employment 

Contribute to Reconciliation with Indigenous people

The Bear Train initiative is an opportunity for the Federal government to help correct the unjust acquisition of land and building of the ACR by ensuring that the passenger train service becomes essential transportation infrastructure for regional economic development of the First Nations through whose traditional territories it passes. It puts the MCFN in the leadership, managerial role for an important regional service that was previously an instrument of their colonization–an essential service for the local Indigenous, Anglophone and Francophone communities.    

Mitigate Climate Change

For Canada to meet the GHG reductions set out by the Paris Accord, Canadians are encouraged to opt for less polluting forms of transportation.  Since there are no roads into this rail corridor float plane travel is the only alternative to passenger rail since the Algoma passenger train service ended in 2015. Much of the environmental tourism market has been lost for the tourism resorts some of which can now only be accessed by float planes—a very polluting form of transportation.

Support Economic Development and increase employment, particularly for Indigenous Canadians

The Algoma Central Railway (ACR) corridor passes through the traditional territories of at least three First Nations between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst, including Constance Lake First Nation and Michipicoten First Nation.  These traditional territories have been used for many generations by First Nations for hunting, fishing, trapping and other socio-cultural activities. More recently these have become areas in which First Nations are developing eco and Indigenous tourism businesses, as well as forest management plans and other resource-based undertakings.

The Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban initiative is an opportunity for the Federal government to help to ensure that the passenger service plays its important role as essential transportation infrastructure for the regional economic development of the First Nations through whose territories its passes as well as for the local Anglophone and Francophone communities.    .

Mask-wa Oo-ta-ban (the Bear Train) is an economic development initiative of the Missanabie Cree First Nation to re-establish the essential passenger service from Sault Ste. Marie to Hearst to support the economic, employment, social and remote access needs of the First Nations, communities, residents, businesses and socio-economic stakeholders of the Algoma passenger train corridor.  The Algoma region is a distressed area for employment and economic opportunity.  The $40-$50 million in economic benefits (BDO, 2014) and the 100s of jobs the passenger train supported directly and indirectly are vital to the Algoma region’s economic sustainability—particularly in the tourism sector.  This employment is particularly needed by the Indigenous people of our region whose rates of unemployment are significantly higher than the rest of the population.

One of the principal forms of economic development that this train supports is tourism—particularly the growing niche markets of Indigenous tourism, eco-green tourism, accessible tourism and Francophone tourism. As Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie Melanie Joly recently stated, “Tourism is an inclusive sector that showcases Canada’s culture, diversity, natural beauty and unique experiences to the world.  It delivers economic benefits across the country by supporting one in ten jobs.” 

Over $50 million in annual economic benefits that came from the Algoma passenger train has been lost since the service stopped in 2015. We urge Transport Canada to end this loss by funding the Bear Train for the next five years according to the Bear Train Business Plan plan.

Oct 04

Better passenger rail access for Stratford?

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Transport Action Ontario long-time member Ken Westcar has published an op-ed in the Stratford Beacon Herald on October 2, 2019 outlining a practical vision to improving passenger rail service in Southwestern Ontario. The article is reproduced below:


The Stratford train station could prove to be part of the solution to Southwestern Ontario’s transportation woes. (Supplied photo) jpg, SF

By international standards, Stratford’s railway station is a rather sad place. Casual observers see it as a rather quaint reminder of the past. Nevertheless, the colourful flower baskets in summertime and general tidiness of the place provide some hope for a brighter future.

And perhaps that future is hiding in plain sight.

Municipal politicians and passenger rail advocates from Kitchener to London have been quite vocal on the role this underutilized rail corridor could play in a transportation plan for Southwestern Ontario, given the predicted 15 to 30 per cent population growth projected in the region between 2017 and 2041. Add the Ministry of Transportation’s ongoing travails on widening Highway 7/8 through Shakespeare to four lanes, and it’s easy to understand why there’s shared public interest in bringing better passenger rail services to Stratford and beyond.

However, past efforts by passenger rail supporters in engaging with senior levels of government have been akin to punching a cloud. Responses, if any, are dismissive and show an unwillingness to engage in meaningful discussion. Several years ago, Via Rail made a vague commitment to consider additional services, but nothing happened. Then the last Liberal provincial government touted the ill-conceived idea of high-speed rail project that would bypass Stratford entirely and spell the final demise of the city’s once proud railway history.

While it’s understood the implementation of a new rail passenger rail service or the improvement of an existing one is quite complex, it needs to be recognized at both the federal and provincial levels that it’s a critical part of the future mobility matrix. It’s not just about moving people from A to B, but more about social progress through connectivity, wellness and care of our environment.

This corridor is also served by highways that are increasingly unreliable, congested and a major source of air and water pollution. Ongoing improvements to the Highway 7/8-Highway 401 interchange near Kitchener may make the travel situation worse over time, not better. Relentless car-dependent urban sprawl guarantees it. For this very reason, the Ontario Chamber of Commerce has been unequivocal in its support of expanded rail transportation across the province.

The planned all-day, two-way GO train services to Kitchener should incorporate the concept of westward extension to London and perhaps Sarnia on existing and upgraded rail infrastructure. Better use of what already exists makes service improvement affordable to taxpayers and quicker to deliver. It has much lower risk and is expandable.

Several operational and funding ideas have emerged from local discussions:

  • Terminate bi-level GO trains in Kitchener and provide cross-platform connection to regional rail services to London with stops that encourage transit-oriented development.
  • Employ European-style, single-level, multiple-unit trains that are less costly to operate on regional lines.
  • Low, platform-level loading for quick and accessible boarding and a single or two-person crew.
  • Presto or contactless fare payment to encourage ridership.
  • Sponsorship of stations by local municipalities and businesses (St. Marys station is already municipally owned).
  • A new London international airport station to provide an intermodal connection and induce rail passenger demand. (It is understood a low-cost airline is considering expansion in London with up to 250,000 passengers annually). This station and airport parking facilities could also serve rapid urban growth to the east of London.

A collaborative approach between stakeholders could make this project financially viable and sustainable if a broad view of the social and economic benefits is considered.

But opposition to passenger rail expansion often trumpets the public subsidy issue. This must be tempered by the fact that, according to the C.D. Howe Institute, a Canadian think tank, the average public subsidy for highways in Canada is 30 per cent and growing. In other words, fuel taxes and licensing fees cover less than 70 per cent of the cost of building and maintaining our roads. And it doesn’t include the unquantifiable externalities of air and water pollution and their growing burden on public health budgets.

Good highways will always be part of Southwestern Ontario’s transportation system, but making them the default option for public investment will almost certainly put us on the wrong side of history. Growing concerns over carbon emissions, rapidly escalating congestion in the Greater Toronto Area-Hamilton area, an aging population and increasing focus on wellness as a measure of economic and social success requires us to think differently about personal transportation.

The solution is, indeed, in plain sight. Politicians and planners need to park their preconceived ideas and listen to what the public is saying. This is why the Liberal-sponsored Toronto to London high-speed rail project is on ice. It was a solution looking for a problem. Stratford station epitomizes a problem, a solution and an opportunity. Time to open our eyes.

Sep 09

“Ideas in Motion” 2019 Policy Briefings for Federal Election

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Press Releases and Open Letters

The Transport Action family, under the leadership of the national organization, Transport Action Canada, has issued several one-page policy briefings on critical transportation issues. These have been delivered to all federal parties.

Several of these are very relevant to transportation in Ontario. These are

  • Policy Support for Passenger Rail
  • Rebuilding a National Network (pertains to motor coach network)
  • Southwestern Ontario Rail and Bus

The briefings can be viewed here:

Jul 23

Letter to Minister Mulroney – Rail and Bus Transportation Plan for Southwestern Ontario

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Press Releases and Open Letters

Ontario’s Budget 2019 confirmed that the Province is actively exploring opportunities in Southwestern Ontario to enhance passenger train speeds and service levels on existing railway corridors, as well as opportunities for inter-community bus services or other transit solutions that better support the immediate public transportation needs of the region. A transportation plan will be brought forward by fall, 2019.

Transport Action Ontario (TAO) strongly supports this new approach. We have long advocated for High Performance Rail (HPR) – incremental improvement of passenger rail service on existing corridors, plus improved bus feeder service. Various meetings on this topic were held earlier this year by TAO and affiliated organizations with then Transportation Minister Yurek and his staff.

With the appointment of a new Minister, the Hon. Caroline Mulroney, TAO took the opportunity to update her and her staff on our thinking for this upcoming plan. Our letter to the Minister summarized the need for a robust public transportation option, the available technical reports on HPR, the need to include VIA Rail Canada and the Federal Government in the study, and key next steps including specific service scenarios that should be studied.

Our letter to Minister Mulroney can be viewed here:

We also sent the Minister a Policy Briefing prepared by Transport Action Canada on Southwestern Ontario Rail and Bus.

Jun 25

Transport Action Welcomes VIA HFR Announcement

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Press Releases and Open Letters

The following announcement was made today, June 25, 2019, by our parent organization, Transport Action Canada.

Transport Action Canada Welcomes VIA HFR Announcement
Today, the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Infrastructure and Communities, Cynthia Garneau, VIA Rail Canada President and CEOfficer, andPierre Lavallée, Canada Infrastructure Bank President and CEO announced a total of $71.1 million in funding to further explore VIA Rail Canada’s proposal for High Frequency Rail in the Quebec City- Toronto corridor.

Transport Action Canada welcomes the announcement of $71.1 million by the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the Government of Canada to complete diligence work on VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail project.

While we would clearly like to see the High Frequency Rail project move forward as swiftly as possible, we’re very pleased to see that the vital question of ensuring interoperability with REM (Réseau Express Métropolitain) and access to Montreal’s Mount Royal Tunnel is going to be addressed. We are confident that an engineering solution will be relatively straightforward now that the political will to make this work has been confirmed, ensuring that Montreal will enjoy both better transit and enhanced inter city connections.  

Thanks to VIA Rail’s choice of making best use of existing rail corridors and extant rights of way, the project completion risk for High Frequency Rail is much lower than any previous Quebec-Windsor upgrade proposal and many transit projects. We hope this will allow the remaining diligence to be completed swiftly, and for the work to proceed on the first sections of the new route in time for the arrival of the new corridor fleet in 2022.

The largest risk, which we feel the government needs to pay more attention to, is the escalating opportunity cost to Canada of falling further behind the rest of the world on this vital aspect of our transportation infrastructure. Infrequent and inadequate inter city rail service both is a constraint on our domestic economic growth and a deterrent to international investors. 

About Transport Action Canada
Transport Action Canada, founded as Transport 2000 Canada in 1977, is the nation’s leading citizen transportation advocacy group. We are a non-profit, consumer-based organization that promotes through advocacy and education, and represents the interests of consumers or users of public transport services in Canada.