Northern Ontario – More Isolated Than Ever

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Passenger Rail Service in Canada is lagging behind much of the world
Passenger Rail Service in Canada is lagging behind much of the world

An open letter to the management and customer relations department of VIA Rail Canada

By Éric Boutilier

I wanted to provide some feedback regarding the negative impacts I have felt as a result of VIA’s decision to reduce passenger train service in Northern Ontario and the need to restore it immediately.

Over the last year and half, travellers like myself have become keenly aware of just how difficult it is to travel in this region of the country. The number of return trips per week on the Sudbury-White River train was reduced from three to only one. The Canadian, which normally operates twice weekly (three times a week as little as five years ago), was suspended for a period of 14 months before partially returning to service.

This is a situation that is unnecessary and that complicates the lives of those who have to travel for essential reasons.

Planning a trip in Northern Ontario is already difficult enough and inconvenient.

On a regular basis, I have to travel 130 kilometres by car in order to reach the nearest VIA station – Sudbury. Ontario Northland’s bus service just isn’t a practical option for me because their schedules don’t align with the train.

Once I have completed 484 km on the Budd Car, my partner picks me up with her vehicle in White River and then we travel four hours in order to get to Thunder Bay. However, if she is unable to meet me, I have no other choice but to make a reservation for a motel room. Once again, there are no same day train-to-bus connections.

Returning from Thunder Bay, I must board a different passenger train – the Canadian – because of the reduced service between Sudbury and White River. For some unknown reason, travel by rail from the largest city in Northwestern Ontario just isn’t possible at the moment. Therefore, my partner and I must drive a few hours – on single lane provincial highways with limited to no cell phone service – before finally arriving at the station in Armstrong or Longlac.

In both of these communities, the waiting rooms are not open to the public – at least for the time being. One can either wait for the Canadian’s arrival in a personal vehicle, or for those who are less fortunate, outside – which can often be in very warm or very cold temperatures depending on the season.

Once I have returned to the Nickel City, I have an additional 15 km to travel by way of a taxi – from Sudbury Junction to the Downtown VIA station – before finally arriving at my car and heading home.

More than ever, Northerners are isolated and this has a negative impact on their lives.

Flights in this region are just too expensive. Busses aren’t comfortable for distances above a few hundred kilometres. People who drive quite simply can’t do anything else but keep their eyes focused on the road ahead.

What can I say about those who don’t own a vehicle, who are unable to drive or who have health problems unrelated to the pandemic?

Considering that VIA has resumed many daily trains in the Québec-Windsor corridor, I am having great difficulty understanding why the two other Sudbury-White River runs and the second Canadian frequency can’t possibly be restored.

Northerners love the way. Can this Crown corporation please stop putting up so many obstacles to travel and restore our trains?

Originally published on Northern Tracks Blog