North Bay Chamber hears ONTC optimism – by Rob Learn (North Bay – January, 17, 2013)

NORTH BAY – Despite the gloom of the past 10 months around the future of Ontario Northland, the North Bay Chamber of Commerce heard an optimistic message.

Speaking at the Chamber’s regular Thursday, Jan. 10, meeting, a delegation working towards a new federal ownership model told the members they believe their proposal is the most viable so far.

“We’ve asked Minister (of Transportation Bob) Chiarelli, (Rick) Bartolucci (Minister of Northern Development and Mines), ‘Where’s the analysis you’ve done that shows the private sector does this better and that there isn’t any interest in the ONR as a whole?’ There hasn’t been a response, ” said Roy Hains.

Hains is the CEO of the fledgling Lower James Bay Lowlands Port Authority, started just months ago to assume, retain and develop the assets of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“When you have something this big, this large and this long the private sector tends to looks at it for a year, if not a quarter,” said Hains, adding government ownership of assets like this have proven more stable and sustainable.

And a long-term vision is what is needed if the ONTC, or rail in general, is going to play a role in developing the Ring of Fire development in a remote region of the James Bay area, Hains said. Touted as the biggest find since the mining discoveries that spawned the ONTC more than a century ago, Hains predicted it could take five or more years for a rail line to be operational out of the Ring of Fire.

“If you look at it against the big picture, it’s not that long. Infrastructure like this, trains, they have timelines of 50, 60 and 70 years, so five or six years really isn’t that long to get it right,” said Hains.

The new rail line would run north from Nakina, with an estimated cost of up to $2 billion to build for rail bed and bridges. Financing would be a combination of public and private investments.

Joining Hains at the Chamber meeting were members of the ONTC union leadership who said the proposal has buoyed employee morale at the provincial Crown agency.

“Up to Oct. 19 (when the port authority proposal was announced) the news was very bad, and this gives people hope that they don’t divest the place and it will live another day,” said ONTC union spokesman Brian Kelly.

He reported that about 125 people have moved on from the ONTC because of uncertainty, but that the shops are busy with contracts still being preformed for Metrolinx, the GTA public transit authority, and Montreal’s transit authority,
“There is work there and we’re actively pursuing more,” said Kelly.

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