Group fights for passenger trains – by PJ Wilson (North Bay Nugget – August 20, 2013)

http://www.nugget.ca/

Canada’s National Dream may have been derailed by politicians, but a grassroots organization is trying to get it back on track.

The Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) was launched at the Discovery North Bay Museum – the former CP Rail station – Monday in North Bay to not only unite rail supporters in the province, but to try to revive Ontario Northland’s Northlander passenger service.

“Rail service is in trouble in this country,” Peter Miasek, president of Transport Action Ontario, the umbrella organization, said to a small crowd of supporters.

In all the Group of Eight countries, Canada is the only nation that is not investing heavily in rail service, Miasek said. “Even in the United States, (President Barack) Obama is investing heavily in Amtrak” passenger train service, Miasek said.

The federal and provincial governments, he said, are trying to sink rail freight service through subsidies to the trucking industry, while “on the passenger rail side, the situation is even more dire.”

“In 2012, passenger rail service was being cut everywhere across the country, particularly here in Northeastern Ontario,” he said. “It’s hard to figure out why,” he said, considering the increasing congestion on the highways, the high cost of car ownership and the economic benefits of rail service.

In March, 2012, the Ontario government announced it was divesting the Ontario Northland transportation Commission. The Northlander, a six-days-a-week passenger train service connecting Cochrane to Toronto, was discontinued at the end of September last year.

The provincial government has since announced it is not convinced divestment is the only option for the Crown corporation, but has said there are no plans to reintroduce rail passenger service.

Miasek said efforts to get cost information from the province on Northlander service has encountered one brick wall after another, despite Freedom of Information requests.

Phil Koning, interim co-chairman of NEORN, said he hopes the formation of the group will help bring awareness to the various levels of government that rail passenger service – and rail service in general – is an issue they should be paying attention to.

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