Northlander employees bring anger to Sudbury – by Jonathan Migneault (Sudbury Star – October 6, 2012)

The Sudbury Star is the City of Greater Sudbury’s daily newspaper.

Ontario Northland employees were outside Sudbury MPP Rick Bartolucci’s downtown office Friday to protest the cancellation of the Northlander passenger rail service Sept. 28.

“People are angry,” said Brian Kelly, spokesperson for the General Chairperson’s Association, the umbrella group that represents all of Northland’s unions. “They’re venting. We’ve had a lot of people quit and people retire because they just don’t think there’s a future.”

The Northlander had carried passengers from Toronto to Cochrane for more than 100 years. Passengers who don’t want to fork over extra money for flights will have to rely on Ontario Northland’s bus service for the same trip.

Bartolucci, who is also Ontario’s Minister of Northern Development and Mines, said the government could not continue to subsidize the passenger train service while use remained “stagnant.” In 2003, 329,000 people used the rail service, he said. That declined to 321,000 last year.

Bartolucci said the bus service, which runs at around 50% capacity, can pick up the demand from the Northlander, which ran below 50% capacity. Extra coach buses will be added during busier travel periods, such as Thanksgiving weekend.

But France Gelinas, the NDP MPP for Nickel Belt, who attended the protest, said buses aren’t a proper replacement for passenger train service. She said the train was especially valuable for elderly and sick people who needed to travel to Toronto for medical treatment.

“To be in the back of a bus for 10 hours when you’re not feeling good is not reasonable,” Gelinas said.

She added that Northern Ontario has been abandoned by the south, where there are big investments in public transportation.

Kelly said about 200 people work on the Northlander and its sister Polar Bear Express service, both directly and indirectly. He added that all 960 Ontario Northland jobs could be at stake with the Liberals’ plans for divestment. About half the jobs are based in North Bay.

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