Many Northern Ontarians believe improved and expanded rail service is a solution for several of the region’s transportation challenges. Having worked for more than 30 years inside the rail industry and as a policy advisor to various politicians, I applaud those who intelligently promote a greater reliance on rail. However, if they are to succeed and not burn themselves out in frustration, I have two pieces of advice.
First, ensure your vision is not a fantasy. I have watched numerous advocates futilely promote concepts that weren’t thoroughly researched and vetted before they faced the glare of public scrutiny. Most of these proposals were rooted in the past and only demonstrated that their promoters didn’t realize that time runs in only one direction.
The world has changed and other modes of transportation have risen up to usurp rail’s original crown, which was based on trains being all things to all people. They no longer can be.
Trains are superb movers of large quantities of people and goods over certain distances and under very specific conditions. But rail is extremely capital intensive and it must be applied judiciously.
In Northern Ontario, some proposals have basically called for the reactivation of services from a bygone era. There are numerous rail museums and tourist train operations where a nostalgic rail experience can be had. But a real rail service is not the place for this. Are other modes more appropriate than rail in some of the advocates’ proposals?