We Love the [Ontario Northlander] Train, But Really … by Steve Paikin (The Inside Agenda Blog – August 29, 2012)


Ron Brown’s op-ed piece in the August 29 Toronto Star about how much the Northlander would be missed gave me pause. Ron describes in eloquent detail that seeing Northern Ontario through the windows of The Northlander is one of life’s wondrous experiences.
But do you know what we’re paying for that experience? Apparently too much for the McGuinty government’s liking, particularly as it tries to bite into a $15 billion deficit.
It’s true that all forms of transportation are subsidized. Taxpayers foot the bill for the roads our buses travel on. And the rails our subways and streetcars and GO Trains ride on. Come to think of it, taxpayers pay for those subway and surface trains, and streetcars too. And once upon a time, they paid to build all of the country’s airports.
But the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC), while an enriching experience, is being subsidized to the tune of $400 per rider. The GO Train gets less than a $2 subsidy per rider. The provincial government has concluded we just can’t afford to do this anymore. Even the mayors of Northern Ontario, who have free passes for life to ride The ONTC, don’t take it. When they need to come south, they fly or drive.
So we now have a situation where train conductors are getting $100,000 a year essentially to drive virtually empty trains up and down the tracks.
Clearly, the status quo can’t continue and everyone knows it.
So the government has decided to shut down the ONTC and sell all its assets by March of 2013. Shutting down the ONTC has always been, politically, a tricky proposition. No one wants to take any service away from the already underserved North. And I’m told the terms of the severance the workers would be entitled to is astonishingly generous — 400 of the 1,000 employees would be entitled to a full salary for 14 years. Shutting this thing down is going to be expensive.
However, the two opposition parties at Queen’s Park are fighting the government’s plans.They say shuttering the entire Ontario Northland operation makes no practical or financial sense.
Vic Fedeli (PC – Nipissing) says years of underfunding Ontario Northland by all three parties has left it a shell of its former self.
“I took the train to Timmins 10 months ago and sat in the locomotive because the engineer was an old schoolmate of mine,” Fedeli says. “The track is in such bad shape, we had to go 10 km/hour for lengthy stretches.”
Fedeli thinks the ONTC operation should be moved from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines (small budget) to the Ministry of Transportation (much bigger budget). The MTO would have the financial wherewithal, he says, to make the necessary investments to improve the track.

For the rest of this column, please go to The Inside Agenda Blog website: http://theagenda.tvo.org/blog/agenda-blogs/we-love-train-really

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