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Sunday, December 30, 2012

'Rugged' first year as MPP

Recently, northern Ontario media outlets voted the ONTC issue as the biggest new story of 2012.  Reflecting on his first year in office, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli agrees, and predicts that the issue will remain important throughout 2013.  He also speculated that the rail division would be the next up for sale. 
'Rugged' first year as MPP | North Bay Nugget

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Good News and Bad News

Support for New Deal North continues to grow, with the provincial NDP stating that the idea has "merit".  Meanwhile, Infrastructure Ontario has moved ahead with the sale of Ontera and plans to announce the buyer in Spring 203.

Monday, December 17, 2012

New Deal North: A new website and a stronger ONTC campaign

Christmas time is nearly upon us and the mess of politics usually winds down, leaving little news for us to digest.  However, building on the momentum of many provincial Liberal leadership candidates questioning the ONTC divestment plan, the ONTC's General Chairperson's Association has chosen to ramp up its campaign for a new deal and has launched a new website - - to promote their plan for the ONTC to be transferred to a port authority.

What began as a union-driven movement to stop the divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission has evolved into a campaign to protect infrastructure in northern Ontario and boost ecomonic and job growth through expanded transport links and new mining operations.  The new plan - to transfer the ONTC to a port authority under the federal Canada Marine Act - would see the ONTC protected, a new line built to the 'Ring of Fire' and increased jobs through the mining sector and the services necessary to support it.  Since April, the negotiations have included native groups who are well represented in the plan.  Municipalities, reserves, politicians, ONTC employees and mining companies all support the plan.

I think that the plan can work.  It protects, and even improves, infrastructure services to northern Ontario while allowing the provincial government to bow out gracefully and move away from what has become a mess.  I think that if native groups are respected and the mining is conducted in a responsible, sustainable manner this will be a great opportunity for the north.  Not only will the existing ONTC services be protected, but the plan also calls for reinstatement of some form of passenger rail along the Highway 11 corridor.  Let's hope this works!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

A city, a spur and a whole lot of trouble

There is a conflict brewing in Oshawa.  The motor city is also home to an excellent industrial harbour which is seeing a new lease of life thanks to a new ethanol plant on the waterfront.  The federally-administered Port of Oshawa is being upgraded to serve large cargo ships and several are now docking at the harbour every week.

However, while the federal government supports the construction, residents of Oshawa and the municipal government are not happy and do not want the plant.  Among the concerns are the impact on the adjacent wetlands and the nearby public beach and park.  The plant is also set to bring increased heavy truck traffic to south Oshawa, an area with schools and houses, as well as heavy industry.  Despite the opposition, construction continues apace.

Stuck somewhere in the middle is CN, who will be offering rail access to the new plant.  In preparation for this new traffic, CN is currently rebuilding and upgrading their line to the harbour.  Abandoned for the past two decades or so, the remnants of the Oshawa Harbour/Wentworth Spur currently run from the CN Kingston Sub south across Wentworth Street before petering out just north of Harbour Road.  In the last few months, CN has finished building the new roadbed near Harbour Road and rail is waiting to be laid.  Further north on the spur, near Wentworth Street, the line is still in its abandoned state, offering an interesting photo opportunity.

Looking north along the Wentworth Spur

I don't know when the line is set to open, but I expect it will offer some interesting angles for railway photography when it does... unless trains run at night.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

So, how is Metrolinx doing?

Currently, the Ontario Government funds two agencies responsible for rail: the ONTC and Metrolinx. The government's desire to divest the ONTC is apprently justified by the perception that the services are a bottomless money pit that no amount of subsidy can possibly fill.  Metrolinx, however, is lauded as being a model transportation agency, with new routes and services being announced every month.  The latest report from Ontario's Auditor General sees Metrolinx in a slightly less rosy light.

It seems that Metrolinx isn't as cost-effective as the government would like it to be.  PRESTO, the new smart card system, is one of the most expensive in the world and is expected to cost over $700 million.  The system, which is designed to offer seamless transfers between transit systems, won't be fully implemented in the TTC network until 2016, one year after the Pan-Am Games.  The renovation of Union Station is over budget and will cost more than $270 million.  Track improvements at the station are also proving costly, with the final bill expected to be $38 million.  The rail link to Pearson Airport, slated to open in time for the 2015 Pan-Am Games, is likely to need more subsidies as the report suggests that ridership will be lower than expected.

It is nearly impossible to run a public transit system without subsidies, but this report also shows just how unrealistic the government's two-tier system is.  Metrolinx and the ONTC both need subsidies, yet the ONTC is somehow less worthy of them.  Compared to Metrolinx, the ONTC serves a very small group of people, but the service is minimal at best.  In the densely-populated Toronto Area, Metrolinx provides a variety of improving services to millions of people, it seems with infinite capital available when it is needed.  The north-south divide is clear. News - Ontario may write off $1.4B in unpaid taxes, AG says

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

'Liberals are long on platitudes and short on policy' - Fedeli

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli criticises the Liberal leadership candidates for their lack of understanding about northern Ontario.  While many of the candidates were part of McGuinty's government, their decision to hold a debate on primarily northern issues suggests that there might be some desire for a better relationship with the north.
'Liberals are long on platitudes and short on policy' - Fedeli

Monday, December 10, 2012

Liberal leadership rivals clash on autonomy for northern Ontario

It's a rare occasion when all the candidates agree on something (other than they want to win).  However, it would seem that they all agree on one point: Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government has failed northern Ontario.
Liberal leadership rivals clash on autonomy for northern Ontario | iPolitics

Friday, December 07, 2012

GO Tracker: A New Tool to Follow Trains

 GO has just launched GO Tracker, a new website designed to offer real-time information on the GO rail network, including train locations, times and platform numbers.  It looks like a lot of fun and will certainly help people find out if there are any delays to watch for.
GO Tracker

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

DVD Review: De-Railed

Trailer for De-Railed: The National Dream

For many years, I have been ranting and raving about the decline of railways in Canada.  Yes, there is growth in the GTA thanks to commuter rail, but the rest of the country is increasingly seeing railways reduced to single tracks for CN and CP.  I really believe that the future of rail in Canada is troubled, so imagine my relief to discover that I am not alone in my concern.

I recently received my copy of De-Railed: The National Dream, a new documentary by Sault Ste. Marie-based filmmaker Dan Nystedt.  Not only do other people share my fear for Canada's railway future, but some of them care enough to make a documentary about it.  In this 70-minute production, Nystedt takes us on a frenetic trip across the country, surveying the state of rail and profiling the people looking to halt, and even reverse, the decline.

The trip begins in northern Ontario, looking at the uncertain future of the Huron Central Railway, a company leasing the CP line from the Soo to Sudbury, in desperate need of infrastructure funding to keep running.  After rushing through the story of the railway, which I found to have a cliffhanger ending (as it still does in reality), the documentary continues to profile other threatened railways in Canada including the Ontario Northland (which, at the time of filming, was considered to be "hanging by a thread").  From Ontario, the trip continues to the Prairies to look at the consolidation of branchlines serving the grain industry and the various communities that have banded together to buy abandoned lines to continue shipping their grain to market on their own terms.  The journey concludes on Vancouver Island, where the Island Corridor Foundation is trying to reopen the abandoned CP line along the spine of the island.

The claim that the documentary is a coast-to-coast journey is not entirely clear as Quebec and the Maritimes are hardly mentioned.  The production features interesting and insightful interviews with many different people, including native leaders, academics, lobbyists, politicians, railroaders and even Amtrak president Joseph Boardman.  The interviews show how people from all walks of life are concerned about the direction Canada is taking when it comes to rail.  Shockingly, the country has lost over 12,000 km of track in the last 20 years and only just over 1% of government infrastructure money is spent on what railway network is left.

I really felt that the production was too short.  From the credits, it was clear that the number of people appearing in the finished product represented only a small fraction of the number actually interviewed.  Likewise, much of the footage in the introduction and conclusion shows that the trip was in fact far more coast-to-coast than the film showed.  Of course, all productions have time limits, but I really felt that 70 minutes was too short and that it caused the story to be abbreviated too much.  At times it felt as if the story was being sacrificed for the sake of brevity.  This documentary is not a narrative or a comprehensive guide to all the issues, but rather an overview of several initiatives from across the country.  It can at times feel a little disjointed, but as some of the people pointed out, Canada has no national transportation strategy, so this feeling of disconnect is to be expected.

This independent documentary gives a very good and persuasive overview of the crisis in Canadian railways as lines are torn up because the scrap value of the rail outweighs the value of the railway itself.  I would like to see public broadcasters, such as TVO, pick up this documentary because it profiles an important issue in Canada's future: what happens should, heaven forbid, we need railways again one day?

Authors often end up blinkered when working on their latest project.  I confess that working on my upcoming Ontario Northland book, I have tended to ignore railway issues in the rest of Canada.  Dan Nystedt's latest full-length documentary has helped me to reconnect with the bigger rail picture in Canada.  De-Railed is fast, intelligent and left me asking: when is Part 2 coming out?

De-Railed: The National Dream is available now on DVD through the Form Productions website.  Copies cost $20 each.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Pacific's Tour Comes to a Close

It's official.  According to a post on the Canadian Passenger Rail Group, Pacific is safely back home in Ajax after the Mother Parker Remembers tour to raise money for Alzheimer's research.

The tour provided a very interesting part of railway photography this past year and the unofficial tally suggests that over $900,000 was raised by the tour, an impressive sum indeed.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

CP's Holiday Train

For the past 14 years, Canadian Pacific has sent specially-decorated trains across its Canadian and American networks to kick off the festive season.  Although it is called the "Holiday Train," it is clearly a Christmas train, complete with Santa and a tree on the locomotive roof.  Along with connecting the railway to the communities it passes through, the Holiday Train also hosts musical guests at the various stops along the way and collects donations for local food banks.  To date, the initiative has raised $6.4 million and 2.6 million lbs. of food, all while providing free entertainment along the way.

I have seen the train on several occasions, its visit often accompanied by very bad weather.  This year was no different, its stop in Bowmanville coincided with the first actual snow of the year, all two millimetres of it.  However, it was the biting wind and intermittent ice pellets that made this year's weather memorable.  Despite the weather, I was able to capture some interesting photos of this year's CP Canadian Holiday Train.

The business car at the end of the Holiday Train

The train arrived a little late at the Scugog Street crossing in downtown Bowmanville.  It struck me that the crowd of spectators this year was thinner than normal, and many people left as soon as they had seen the train arrive, not bothering to stay for the show.  The weather certainly did not help.

The Holiday Train crosses Highway 2 on its way to Oshawa

Rather than listen to the show, which honestly didn't sound all that musically enjoyable, I wandered around trying different angles before setting up to photograph the train departing for the next stop in Oshawa.  The same locomotive is used on the Holiday Train each year, with CP 9815 assigned to the Canadian train.  I saw 9815 in the St-Luc Diesel Shop during my visit last October.

This was also the first time that I had my Canon SLR to shoot the train and it performed admirably.  The top ISO of 1600 was certainly helpful, although higher would have been nice too!

The Holiday Train is now making its way across Northern Ontario on its way to the Pacific Ocean.  For a schedule, visit CP's website.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Holiday spirit hits the rails

If you ever needed a reason why the ONTC should remain in public hands, read how much time and effort the ONTC family invests in the communities it serves.  Shareholder accountability really limits that sort of thing.
Holiday spirit hits the rails | Your online newspaper for North Bay, Ontario

10 Years of Websites

In December 2002, I put my first website online.  It was basic, rather pointless and was hosted by the now-defunct Geocities.  Unfortunately, no copies of this original website exist, but it dealt with the same topic I still discuss today: railways.  Here's to ten years and, just maybe, another ten in cyberspace.

Friday, November 30, 2012

#219 Update

Sadly, #219 did not receive enough votes to make it to the semi-final round of the Aviva Community Fund.  After each round of voting, there were more and more votes and that was wonderful to see.  I would like to thank everyone who voted to help with this project. 

Remember, the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum & Heritage Centre still needs help to move 219 from Cochrane to Capreol.  Visit their website if you can help.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Why there will never be another Morant

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be given a copy of Nicholas Morant's Canadian Pacific as a gift.  This is an enormous book full of gorgeous photographs from Morant's personal collection and from the CP Archives.  Morant is considered the master of Canadian railway photography and it is easy to see why when you look at his work.  Despite his obvious skill, not every shot he took was perfect and the book features many images that were rejected for a variety of reasons.   It even discusses the rare occasion when an entire roll of film was ruined!

Sadly, I don't think there will ever be another Morant.  Fistly, he essentially approached CP with a proposal for his job as "Special Photographer."  True, CP was already aware of his work and they had employed him and used his shots before, but it still took a lot of chutzpah to ask CP for a tailor-made job.  Today, most railway photography is done by freelancers on tight deadlines.  Morant was often given weeks to get the best photograph possible, so it is no wonder his shots were good!  Most railway photographers have to make the most of whatever conditions present themselves.  Morant built platforms for better angles, special fittings on locomotives to get the best shot and he even had the power to stop trains at exactly the spot he wanted them for his photos.  His work took an enormous amount of planning as he often used three or four cameras on remotes to be able to get multiple exposures on different mediums while also using different angles.

Morant's work also shows us how constrained the rules of railway photography have become.  Thanks to such moderated photo sites as, the definition of what is a good railway photograph has become increasingly narrow.  It's hard to find set rules in Morant's work, beyond a pleasing aesthetic of course.  The "rule of thirds" isn't always followed, not all the shots are on the sunny side of the train, some of the best photos are taken of trains going away from the camera and some of them have a noticeable degree of blur.  The fact is, Morant saw railway photography in its natural setting, never removing the train from its surroundings.  Yes, he did do roster shots, but he preferred to have the train dwarfed by its surroundings.  There is a drama in his work, mostly because the trains are part of something bigger.  You feel like you are seeing the scene as it was, not just as a train, but as a place.

Lastly, the main reason that there will never be another Morant is that the world has forgotten about still photographs.  I specialise exclusively in still images.  In fact, I deliberately bought a camera that didn't have a video mode.  But I am a dying breed.  Publicity and advertising today is full of video and moving content, not photographs.  Morant's work was powerful in an era when the still image was king.  Now, only those of us who still love the static image will truly appreciate his work and how much effort he went to for one image.

If you have a chance to look at this book, or at Morant's work in general, I would encourage you to enjoy it and learn - there are so many ideas for new photographs.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ontario Northland’s Christmas Train

It has been a bad year for Ontario Northland and 2013 could well be even worse.  Despite the doom and gloom, the staff have found the time and energy to put together their annual Christmas train, which will be stopping along the line in various communities the ONR serves.  Go have a look if you have the chance!
Ontario Northland’s Christmas Train - Ontario Northland

Plea for ONTC likely to fall on deaf ears

People don't like the planned sale of the ONTC, local governments don't like it and now industry doesn't like it.   Does anyone?
Plea for ONTC likely to fall on deaf ears | Timmins Press

Friday, November 23, 2012

One Weekend, Two Specials

Coming from Canada, seeing the number of special trains run in the UK, or even the US, is mind boggling.  Hardly a weekend goes by without some special charter.  For the most part, railways in Canada never bother to run such trains and when they do, it is often done secretly.  However, last weekend was a refreshing exception to the rule.

Last Saturday, the Grey Cup Train arrived at Exhibition GO Station in Toronto for the last stop on the 100th Anniversary Grey Cup Tour of Canada.  For those not familiar with the Grey Cup, it is the equivalent of the Superbowl, but for the Canadian Football League.  The CFL is often lauded as the only real pro-league in Canada, despite the fact that a large number of the players and coaches are American.  I have to be honest, I do not like football.  I have never managed to stand more than five minutes of a game and I cannot stand the rowdy partying that accompanies the fans.  It was inevitable that my views would cloud my impression of the Grey Cup Train.

The train, which began its journey in Vancouver, spent most of its time visiting communities in Western Canada.  In terms of the number of actual CFL fans, this move made sense, but it also helped to reinforce how segmented Canada is.  Apart from a last-minute stop in North Bay, the train passed through the entirety of northern Ontario without stopping.  Likewise, northern Quebec never got a visit.  Compared to the plethora of stops made by the CP Holiday Train each year, the Grey Cup Train seems limited.  From a photographer's perspective, the tour was also frustrating because a schedule was only released once the train reached southern Ontario, meaning that fewer people actually got to see the train itself.

I arrived in Toronto just before 10 Saturday morning to be near the front of the line.  I stood and waited as I was penned in with the other people, clearly die-hard CFL nuts, while a remarkable number of CFL staff stood guard.  We listened to countless speeches extolling the virtues of the CFL and its sponsors (please note that the Grey Cup is exclusively broadcast on the subscription-only TSN).  Finally people were allowed to visit the train - no more than eight at a time.  The line crawled forward.  All I really wanted was to be able to photograph the locomotive with the train behind it.  The way to the front of the train was blocked by staff and ropes.  When I asked about my photo idea, I was told that I would have to go through the train first.  By the point, I had been lined up and getting increasingly annoyed for about 40 minutes, so I joined the hyper fans being micromanaged by CFL staff in the train.  The train itself was made of coaches from both VIA and CP and, I must admit, the interior layout was interesting.  The displays meant absolutely nothing to me, but sports memorabilia probably wouldn't.  I weaved through past the overly excited fans and the overly smiley staff until I could see the way out.  I couldn't actually get out though, a elderly woman ahead of me had fallen off the train, it seems that the footstool on the ground was wobbly.  After another delay, I marched to the front, past the ropes and got my shot.  In all, it took about an hour for me to get the one photo I wanted.  Perhaps the tour was appreciated by the CFL and its fans, but it did not endear me to their league, their sport, or their organisation of events. 

Later in the day, I returned to Exhibition station to photograph the train from a different angle.  It was nearly sunset and the train and the Toronto skyline were bathed in a beautiful warm glow.  This made for a lovely composition and it masked the CFL nature of the train nicely.  I like trains, not football.  Different strokes for different folks.

Sunday evening and I was out again for yet another special train.  Pacific had just completed a trip to the Maritimes and was heading from Montreal back to Toronto on VIA 657.  I arrived at Oshawa not knowing exactly when the train would arrive, it was running at least 30 minutes late.  It lost little time beyond that and pulled to a stop at the new island platform.  As usual, a small crowd of passengers gathered at the back to chat to however many railfans (in this case only myself) had assembled.  I think that Pacific had in fact dropped off the radar of most people and it was only by luck that I had decided to check the website a few days before.  Last time I chatted with the people, I got a free tin of coffee (still proudly on display - it's a collectable), this time I got a lovely postcard of Pacific.  I've enjoyed following the tour.  The days of business cars being tacked on the end of trains are long gone, so it has been good to remember.  After a few minutes, the train headed off to Toronto.  According to the on-board chef, this was the last run of the year for the coach.

As far as Canadian standards go, it was one busy weekend of railway happenings.

Candidate votes to save ONTC

Gerard Kennedy is the latest Liberal leadership candidate to say he would reconsider the sale of the ONTC.  This trend presents an interesting question: exactly what percentage of the Liberal party supported the divestment of the ONTC in the first place?  Of course, calling for a rethink might also be a way to gain votes from northern delegates.  Unlike Murray or Sousa, Kennedy does now expect to retain the ONTC in it existing form.  Rather, he wants to see how it can more effectively serve the economy and passenger needs of the north.  This sounds very much like what the ONTC unions have been wanting for the better part of a decade.
Candidate votes to save ONTC | Sudbury Star

Support for Ontario Northland employees over 1000 letters strong

The port authority proposal gains support.
Support for Ontario Northland employees over 1000 letters strong

Thursday, November 22, 2012

18 northern municipalities aim to protect Ontario Northland

The headline says it all, 18 municipalities have approved identical motions to support a pause to the divestment process and for greater consultation with the people dependent on the ONTC.
18 northern municipalities aim to protect Ontario Northland

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Rails of the GTA 1&2: Now at Credit Valley!

I am very excited to announce that Rails of the GTA and Rails of the GTA Volume 2 are now available for sale at the Credit Valley Railway Company in Mississauga!  Until now, the books have only been available online, but you can now buy a copy in person.

Credit Valley also stock my history of railways in Whitby: Stand Clear of the Doors

Now is your chance to buy books about modern GTA railways and support a local hobby shop at the same time!

Click here to visit Credit Valley's website:

Closed London plant donates Dewdney art

The former EMD plant in London may be up for sale, but at least some of the iconic art from the facility will be preserved for the city.  Of course, the art of the plant will also live on as long as London-built locomotives continue running on railways all around the world.
Closed London plant donates Dewdney art | The London Free Press

'Pause' ONTC divestment: Murray

Another provincial Liberal leadership candidate, Glen Murray, has said that he would stop the sale of the ONTC.  However, unlike Charles Sousa, Murray also wants to set up a separate government for northern Ontario, giving the region partial autonomy.  Personally, I feel that government is diluted enough as it is and I do not believe that northern Ontario needs its own government - provided Queen's Park actually listens to the north and works with them to create a better future for all of Ontario.  Either way, something has to change.
'Pause' ONTC divestment: Murray | North Bay Nugget

Friday, November 16, 2012

GO's new, and counter-productive, service guarantee

GO Transit recently introduced its new service guarantee, promising to credit passengers if their trip is delayed (of course, there are multiple exceptions and in fact few delays will probably qualify) by more than 15 minutes.  On the surface, this sounds like a good deal for commuters and a good motivator for GO to keep their trains running on time.  Dig a little deeper and the deal starts to seem counter-productive.  Here is my take.

Delays are a fact of life.  Every form of transport, from feet to trains to planes, can suffer delays.  If we have reached a stage in our culture where an occasional delay becomes the supreme decider of success and failure, then we have little left.  I always try to arrive for anything early.  It doesn't take much effort and it is usually possible to find the time to do this.  The sort of delays that are covered by the guarantee include maintenance and equipment failure.  Maintenance is important because without it, derailments and more lengthy delays would be more frequent.  Equipment does sometimes fail, as does everything, and sometimes it can't be prevented.  The delays that aren't covered include accidents, trespassers and passenger alarms.  In my experience with GO, these are in fact the more common occurrences.  However, if you still feel it is fair to ask for a credit, there are other reasons the idea isn't wise.

Safety is paramount in rail operations.  This is purely speculative and I hope it would never happen, but on-time guarantees put undue pressure on operating crews to sometimes push the limits in order to not cost their employer money.  This is certainly seen in such time-sensitive industries as trucking and pizza deliveries.  GO Transit's crews are well-trained and experienced and I am sure they would never jeopardise passenger safety in order to meet the scheduled time, but I do believe that the guarantee will add more pressure to what is already a tough job.

My final reason to oppose the guarantee pertains to the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.  GO Transit received provincial subsidies through Metrolinx, the provincial transportation agency.  The ONTC also receives government subsidies and, as a result, has been deemed too costly to sustain by the government and will now be broken up and sold.  Not only is the government willing to continue putting money into GO, but they are now also willing to reimburse passengers for minor inconveniences.  To me, this is entirely unfair and demonstrates a clear lack of interest in northeastern Ontario.  Refunds also direct funding away from improving the GO system, something which could prevent future delays from happening.

In all, it is up to each individual person whether they will take GO's offer of compensation or not.  I will politely decline should I ever be given the option.

An open letter to all Ontario Liberal Party leadership candidates

The campaign for a new leader of the provincial Liberal party offers an excellent opportunity for the ONTC sale to be revisited.  Making sure that all the candidates are aware of the issue is an important step in coming up with a better solution.
General Chairperson's Association (GCA) | An open letter to all Ontario Liberal Party leadership candidates on behalf of stakeholders supporting the New Deal for Northern Ontario

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Whitby Maintenance Facility: A Clearer Picture

Last night, I attended an open house explaining the South Blair Street grade separation project.  I enjoyed seeing the updated plans for the new underpass and being able to discuss the project timeline with representatives from GO.

The grade separation is part of the much larger East Region Rail Maintenance Facility project which will see a large maintenance facility built for GO Transit in Whitby, allowing for maintenance east of Toronto, rather than all equipment having to deadhead to the Willowbrook Yard in Mimico.  Although the open house wasn't about the new Facility, the dates gave a clearer picture of how work will progress.

The affected area

The grade separation project will begin in late 2013 and is divided into several stages:
  1. The two-track GO sub will be temporarily routed to the north of the existing crossing.
  2. The northern section of the underpass will be built in its place.
  3. The two-track (and yard lead) CN Kingston sub will be temporarily rerouted on top of the completed northern section.
  4. The southern section of the underpass will be built in its place.
  5. The five tracks will be returned to their original routing, now on top of the underpass.
The construction is expected to be completed by the end of 2015.  South Blair Street between Victoria Street and Watson Street will be closed throughout the project and traffic will be rerouted on Watson Street or Water Street.

With South Blair Street reopened (now with four lanes and sidewalks), the next stage of the project is to close the Hopkins Street overpass to the Gerdau and Hanson plants and demolish the bridge as the new Maintenance Facility will swallow up Hopkins Street and the overpass approach.  Access will be provided by a new road running east from South Blair Street into the plants.

Whitby's rail infrastructure was long overdue for a major upgrade.  For railfans, this project means losing such beloved locations as the South Blair crossing next year and the very popular Hopkins Street bridge in 2015.  However, this was inevitable as the level crossing was an anomaly limiting both road traffic and rail operations and the bridge was excessive as it only served two industries.  There will be other locations, and the construction of the new Maintenance Facility will provide an interesting last chapter for trainspotting at these sites.

GO Transit has also set up a dedicated email for any questions about the project.  You can contact them directly at:

Port Authority Plan Gaining Momentum

Few developments regarding the ONTC have trickled over the wires in the past week.  One might say that no news is good news, and in this case the lack of developments has allowed alternate plans, notably the idea of moving the ONTC under a port authority, to gain acceptance.

In a new release, the GCA outlines how the North Bay Council is looking to back the port authority plan along with other northern Ontario communities. 

Following Dalton McGuinty's resignation, the provincial government has been in tatters and the port authority plan offers an opportunity for the province to largely rid itself of the ONTC mess while also showing support for northern Ontario.  It seems like a win-win situation.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Time to help #219 again!

Round 3 of qualifying voting in the Aviva Community Fund begins today.  Once again, I am asking you to vote to help in the restoration of locomotive #219, recently saved from scrap by the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre.  They are looking for 10,000 votes - let's help them get there!

Click here to vote to help #219!

Thank you!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Sousa: 'I want to be your jobs [and ONTC] premier'

With Dalton McGuinty stepping down, several people are now making outlandish promises in the hopes of becoming the next leader of the Liberal party.  Charles Sousa is one of these people.  He has decided to focus his platform on job creation, including boosting the economy in Northern Ontario.  He has vowed to accelerate development of the 'Ring of Fire' and reinstate the Northlander.  Of course, all this depends on him becoming leader and being able to successfully push his ideas through.  Nevertheless, he is certainly one candidate to watch.
Sousa: 'I want to be your jobs premier' | Niagara Advance

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Une Visite à Montréal - 3: Exporail

The highlight of my trip to Montreal wasn't actually in Montreal at all, but rather in the nearby town of Saint-Constant, home of Exporail: The Canadian Railway Museum.

I honestly didn't know what to expect, but their website didn't even come close to doing the museum justice.  It is a sprawling complex of both indoor and outdoor displays covering all eras of Canadian railway history.  Sadly, my trip was rushed as AMT's last train back to Montreal is at 1.30 in the afteroon, affording only a three hour visit to Exporail, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was a spectacular day weather-wise and there were hardly any visitors, meaning that the staff were happy to chat and give me a personal tour of some of the artefacts.  I tried to see as much of the museum as possible, but it would really take several days to see the collection properly.

Here are a few highlights from my trip:

VIA 6309, an iconic F unit, once the workhorse of VIA's fleet:

Inside the Angus Pavilion (the main indoor exhibit space) was a quirky take on the hi-rail inspection vehicle:

Of course, the highlight of my trip was bound to be Ontario Northland 1400, looking a little shabby, but still gleaming in the sun:

If you haven't visited this museum, I highly recommend it as it shows that, not only does Canada have a railway history, but that there are some people working to preserve it for future generations in a world-class railway museum.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Province wants union's business plan

Perhaps a little optimism for the future of the ONTC, or at least some constructive discussion?
Province wants union's business plan | North Bay Nugget

Wednesday, November 07, 2012

Happy National Railway Day!

Say what?

Canada, the country with the rapidly eroding passenger rail network, has a National Railway Day?

Well, it does.  I didn't know about it until I received an email from the Coalition for Algoma Passenger Trains, announcing that the Sault Ste. Marie council recently voted to recognise the day.  That the Soo is recognising how important the railway has been to Canada is appropriate.  Once the hub of the iconic (and now defunct) Algoma Central Railway, the city is now home to what is effectively a branchline on CN's network.  The Coalition is lobbying for better rail connections between the Soo and Sudbury, including passenger rail.  Given the amount of trackage being torn up in Ontario, and the provincial government's plan to sell off Ontario Northland, they certainly have an uphill battle.  That said, they have strong local support and tomorrow CAPT and Transport Action Canada will host the National Dream Renewed, a cross-Canada series of town hall meetings hoping to foster discussion about investing in and expanding passenger rail in Canada.

National Railway Day is now in its third year.  Proclaimed by Stephen Harper's government in 2010, it marks the anniversary of the driving of the last spike on the Canadian Pacific at Craigellachie, British Columbia in 1885.  There is no doubt as to the enormous impact that the railway had in the formation of Canada.  In much of the country, the railway was the first viable mode of transportation for crossing muskeg, lakes and dense forests.  In the 127 years since the completion of the transcontinental route, Canada has seen railways come and go, but rail freight continues to innovate and grow.  Sadly, the same cannot be said for passenger rail.  VIA Rail has faced repeated cuts throughout its history, recently scaling back nearly all of its services to concentrate resources on the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal triangle.  In my view, we are seeing the end of VIA Rail's national mandate.  We are seeing the consolidation of an intercity passenger rail network between the three most important cities in the eastern half of the country.  What of the rest?  It would seem that they no longer matter.  Provided one other mode of transport is available, VIA feels it can withdraw its presence from a region.

I do not blame VIA for this.  After all, the fact that they have been able to keep so much running with so little funding or public support is remarkable.  It doesn't have to be this way.  Even in the most car-loving country in the world, the United States, Amtrak's ridership figures are through the roof and billions of dollars are being invested in improving service - and not just in the Boston-Washington corridor.

Canada's National Railway Day is not the same as the American National Train Day, which is a celebration of the past, present and future of rail in the US.  Canada's new holiday is to remember only the past of railways, the official release did not mention the present or the future of rail in Canada at all.  This is probably because, unless you are a big logistics company or a bulk shipper of natural resources, the railways in this country no longer mean much to you.  Outside of three commuter rail networks and what is left of VIA, most communities in Canada aren't even served by a passenger train anymore.  To focus on the present would be depressing; the government must instead rely on a nostalgia trip.

I decided to celebrate the holiday in my own way, by photographing a train in Canada.  Here is VIA 60 rolling under Henry Street in Whitby this past lunchtime.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

FONOM Calls on Minister Bartolucci to Stop Divestment of ONTC

A press release from the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities is calling on the Liberal government to stop, or at least pause, the divestment of the ONTC until the government stabilises and the economy is more solid.
FONOM Calls on Minister Bartolucci to Stop Divestment of ONTC

Monday, November 05, 2012

Une Visite à Montréal - 2: St-Luc & CAD

As part of my visit to Montreal, Canadian Railway Observations editor William Baird and railfan Frank Jolin invited me on a whirlwind tour of the railway sites of Montreal, culminating in a tour of CP's St-Luc diesel shop.  The St-Luc yard is a sprawling complex of marshalling yards and repairs shops. as well as loading facilities for CP's priority Expressway piggyback train.  The once-enormous roundhouse has now been demolished to the extent that only a few stalls are still standing.  Despite this, the remaining stalls and the adjacent turntable are still used daily.

Many of the locomotives around the diesel shop were former SOO Line SD60s, refurbished and painted into CP Rail colours.  Here is one of these units, CP 6241, formerly SOO 6041.

It was a great tour and merci beaucoup to my guides!

Another important railway site in Montreal is CAD Rail, a railway refurbishment company specialising in locomotive refits.  They are currently refurbishing all of VIA Rail's F40 locomotives and are also part of CP's SD60 refurbishments.  It's not possible to visit their facility, but you can get some good photos by taking an AMT train along the Candiac line and shooting out the coach window.

Frankly, it's probably a better shot than you would get from ground level anyway!

Voting for #219 now closed

As you may have noticed, voting to help fund #219 has now closed.  The project was voted for by several hundred people and received at least 800 votes!  The semi-finalists will be announced in a few days.

If you didn't vote for #219, you can still help restore this piece of northern Ontario's railway history.  Contact the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum & Heritage Centre for details.

Friday, November 02, 2012

Une Visite à Montréal - 1: AMT

Last month, I was finally able to visit Montreal thanks to a VIA Rail seat sale.  Montreal is the largest city in Quebec and the business centre for the province.  It feels like a hybrid of North America and Europe, with big cars, skyscrapers, little cafés and high fashion all in one place.  While it was a very rushed visit, I really enjoyed my time there and I will certainly be going back.

Montreal is also an important railway location in Canada.  CN's headquarters is right on top of the Gare Centrale, VIA's main offices are also in town and it is CP's eastern terminus.  It was only logical then that railways made up a large part of my trip.

With such a big and busy city, commuter rail is an excellent way for people to get around.  The Agence Métropolitaine de Transport (AMT) is Montreal's commuter train operator.  Their rolling stock is very much as GO Transit's was a generation ago: a mix of locomotives and coaches cobbled together to boost capacity.  Of particular interest is AMT's new fleet of Bombardier bi-level coaches.  Unlike the ones designed for GO, these do not have a mezzanine level.  The AMT coaches also have two sets of doors at different heights, one low set for ground-level platforms and one higher set for the European-style high platforms at stations such as Gare Centrale.  This makes for a versatile fleet that can operate on any route.

Montreal is also unique for having the only electrified rail lines in Canada.  The Deux-Montagnes route still operates using electric trains, like this one I photographed on the approach to Gare Centrale.

An AMT electric commuter train at Gare Centrale

AMT also has some modern diesel locomotives in its fleet, such as F59PHI #1330 seen arriving at Lucien L'allier station, the terminus for most of AMT's routes.  The station is part of the large Centre Bell, home of the Montreal Canadiens.

AMT 1330 at Lucien L'allier

Like many railways, AMT struggles to have enough equipment to meet demand.  As GO Transit retired most of its F59 locomotives, AMT bought or leased many of them for use in Montreal.  Here is former GO Transit #521, now renumbered RBRX 18521, with an AMT train at Lucien L'allier.  It was nice to see a familiar locomotive.

Once GO Transit, 18521 is now leased to AMT

I was also able to ride one of the AMT trains.  It was very much like riding a GO train, except that the announcements were in French and AMT no longer issue any paper tickets - even a single ride ticket is now a one-use smartcard.  Having seen AMT, I have now seen 2/3 commuter rail lines in Canada, but I doubt I will be getting to Vancouver any time soon!

Ontario court gives green light to class action over Via derailment

An update on a story from last winter: the Ontario courts have decided to allow a class-action lawsuit filed against VIA Rail and CN to proceed.  Personally, I feel it is still too soon as the report into the derailment of VIA 92 has yet to be completed.  The report would identify which party(ies), if any, were at fault.
Ontario court gives green light to class action over Via derailment -

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A New Voice for the ONTC

A new month and a new campaign to try and save the ONTC.  The Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities has hired a professional lobbyist to bring their concerns to southern Ontario.  With so little media coverage and public awareness outside of the north, the goal of this new campaign, centred around the new website, is to educate residents about southern Ontario about the government's divestment of the ONTC and the recent decision to end overnight camping in northern provincial parks. 

The campaign is only in its early stages, but so far the results have been promising.  Based on canvassing of commuters outside Toronto's Union Station, about 80% of people are willing to act to help northern Ontario once they understand what is happening.  This is a heartening development and suggests that the north isn't as isolated as it might think - the challenge is to make people aware of what is going on.

The new website is well-designed and simple to understand.  The message is clear: it is time for the government to reconsider some of its recent decisions.

ONR sale concerns resource companies

As the divestment process continues, mostly behind closed doors, the ONR's freight customers wonder what the future will hold.  Many of them have long-standing relationships with the railway and rely on rail to ship their products.  Prolonged uncertainty will no doubt lead to companies moving elsewhere in a bid to retain secure transportation links.
ONR sale concerns resource companies - CBC News

Monday, October 29, 2012

No cash for new line – province

And so the stalling begins.  The provincial government claims they have no money to build a new railway line, yet had $230 million (or over $600 million - depending on who you believe) to close partially-built power plants.   Much of this new plan would be funded through "private investors and bonds", meaning a limited role for the provincial government anyway.  Hopefully the sides will meet and come up with a good deal for everyone.
No cash for new line – province | North Bay Nugget

Sunday, October 28, 2012

A New Ontario Northland Documentary

There have been several documentaries about Ontario Northland over the years, notably some great ones from Chandos TV.  However, I hadn't heard of any recent documentaries until I met Keenan Menard in Toronto last month.  He is the co-host of an upcoming documentary called The Northlander Documentary.  We were both there to see the last Northlander leave Toronto, exactly one month ago today.

Recently, I asked Keenan to tell me more about the production.  A while back, Jason Payette decided to make a documentary about the train and Keenan soon joined the project.  It will concentrate on the train itself and the communities it serves, notably those south of North Bay.  This is a good decision because people often forget that Ontario Northland's services do extend south of Nipissing and the Northlander through Muskoka was often neglected.  The documentary is especially timely now that the iconic train no longer runs.

The documentary is still very much a work in progress, with Jason and Keenan now compiling the raw footage.  They hope to release the finished product on DVD in future.  I look forward to seeing the finished production!

To learn more about the documentary, visit its Facebook page:

Friday, October 26, 2012

Show your support for #219!

Voting is underway for #219 to get a share of the Aviva Community Fund.  Don't let this project fall by the wayside, vote today!

Click here to help #219!

Thank you!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Support for the New Deal Grows

In a press release Monday, the unions representing ONTC workers announced very strong suppport for their plan to transfer the ONTC to a new port authority and expand the railway into the lucrative mineral deposit in the 'Ring of Fire.'

In related news, the North Bay Nugget has been trying to calculate the economic impact on North Bay should the divestment of the ONTC go ahead.  Unfortunately, their investigation has not been very successful as crucial financial data has been withheld by the government.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Vote to help #219!

Exciting news in the plan to restore former T&NO steam locomotive #219, now you can help with the locomotive restoration and it won't cost you a penny!

In recent weeks, the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre has been hard at work finalising the plan to move 219 from Cochrane to Capreol (likely by rail) as well as tracking down various missing pieces of this historic locomotive.  There is plenty of spirit to make this project a success, but it also needs funding.

This is where you come in: the #219 restoration project is part of Aviva's Community Fund.  Community projects gaining the most votes will win a share of the $1 million fund.  Starting today, anyone in Canada who registers on the Aviva Community Fund website can vote once a day for the project between October 22 and November 5.

Thank you!

Important: be sure to read the guidelines on Aviva's website to make sure your votes count.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Saturday, October 20, 2012

A New Deal for Ontario Northland?

Since the announced sale of the ONTC back in March, the unions representing ONTC workers have been working behind the scenes on a new plan to not only save the railway, but expand it too.

Announced yesterday, the plan calls for the ONTC to be transferred to a newly-created port authority - the James Bay & Lowlands Ports Trustee Corporation - thus allowing it to operate under the Canada Marine Act.  A full assessment of the ONTC would then be undertaken to see where additional funding or restructuring would make for a more stable and viable entity.  The plan also calls for a new railway line to be built to connect the current ONR to the lucrative 'Ring of Fire' mining sites in the James Bay lowlands, a so far untapped mineral resource.

While the ONTC would remain a publicly-owned entity, it would no longer operate under the current system and would be a more independent organisation, better able to evolve to meet new demands.  The plan has attracted a good deal of support from northern politicians, mining companies and First Nations communities.  The unions now hope to meet with provincial government ministers to discuss their new proposal.

For the past 110 years, the Ontario Northland Railway has provided vital infrastructure to mining in northern Ontario.  The railway is perfectly suited to continue providing transportation and communication to an industry seeing a rebirth thanks to these newly-discovered mineral deposits.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Will the ONTC still be sold?

After Dalton McGuinty's surprise resignation on Monday, I do not expect any changes to the plans to divest the ONTC.  However, the unions representing ONTC workers are renewing their calls for an end to the sale, suggesting that attention can be turned to the issue while parliament is not in session.

North Bay Nugget

Bay Today

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Dalton McGuinty has Resigned

Just as people settled in for a cosy night at home on a windy and cold fall evening, Ontario politics took a most bizarre turn which will no doubt be talked about for years to come.  Dalton McGuinty announced, his wife by his side, that he was resigning as premier and that parliament was prorogued while the Liberals stabilised and chose a new leader.  He explained that he wished to spend more time with his family and to see new blood in the party leadership.  Prorogation would also allow the government more time to negotiate pay freezes with various unions.

McGuinty's premiership has been controversial since his first term.  The mention of (among other things) health premiums, e-health, ORNGE, the ONTC and cancelled power plants will no doubt illicit groans from across Ontario.  McGuinty's resignation was inevitable, but the timing - the same day as the government's fiscal update - is strange and caught everyone off guard, especially as the update was somewhat optimistic.  The decision to prorogue parliament is itself surprising and suggests that Stephen Harper's actions in 2009 and 2010 have set a disturbing nationwide precedent for governments wanting to duck out of a bad situation.

But what of the ONTC?  With the final legislative hurdle having been cleared when the budget passed earlier this year, the divestment is now in the hands of bureaucrats.  So, while one of the figureheads of the plan has stepped down, the divestment should continue as planned.

Whatever people think of McGuinty, his resignation makes it clear that his policies were unworkable from a minority position where compromise was virtually non-existent.

Addendum: McGuinty's resignation also comes on the same day as Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli delivered over 3,000 petitions asking the government to stop the sale of the ONTC.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Whitby Maintenance Facility: Update

A quick update on the progress at GO's new Whitby Maintenance Facility.  Crews have finished clearing all the trees and topsoil from most of the site and are now levelling the ground.  A fence has been put up around the perimeter, but you can clearly see the work from the Hopkins street bridge.  According to the plans published with the environmental assessment, the bridge may be demolished and replaced by an access road from South Blair street.  Until then, it remains a great place to watch the construction and the rail activity.

Minister says divestment on track

According to the minister of Northern Development and Mines, Rick Bartolucci, the plan to sell Ontera is on schedule and he expects that the sale will be complete by early next year.  Potential bidders have until October 22nd to put their names forward.

When asked about a disagreement with Cochrane Mayor Peter Politis, Bartolucci insists that he has met Politis and had discussions with him.  While this is correct, replied Politis, the minister has been unavailable for a face-to-face meeting or a visit to Cochrane.
Minister says divestment on track | Your online newspaper for North Bay, Ontario

Sunday, October 14, 2012

DVD Review: Northern Century

I recently acquired a copy of Chandos Television's documentary Northern Century: 100 Years of Passenger Train Service.  The documentary covers the history of both the T&NO and the Ontario Northland's passenger trains up to the early 2000s.  This is a very professional production featuring stunning footage of the Northlander and Little Bear along with lots of very good archive footage dating back to the 1950s.  The production certainly dug deep into various collections to find the best footage to tell the story of passenger rail in northeastern Ontario.  I was particularly pleased to see footage of the iconic TEE trains in both Europe and Ontario.

I do have a few criticisms of the documentary.  While I found it informative and easy to follow, that is likely because I have dedicated much of my time in the past year to studying the history of the railway.  I fear that this production would be hard for a general audience to follow, especially because it is so fast-paced.  From a more academic perspective, I found the reading of the history to be quite whiggish at times, glossing over many negative events.  I found this especially during discussions on the Swastika-Rouyn line (which is a very interesting story as politics blocked the line's construction for the better part of a decade) and the Cochrane-Moosonee line, which was a financial failure - even if it did create an important transportation link.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary.  It highlights the perseverance and community of the north while showing how Ontario Northland can boast continuous passenger service for over a century - something few railways in North America can claim to have done.

HEPX at Oshawa

Apart from all the 'normal' freight cars you can see, there are also many specialised freight cars in use all over North America - the trick is to find them.  Very often, they lie dormant in yards for years until a job comes along that needs a specific type of car.  As such, they are generally very popular to photograph.  Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to photograph one of these cars for myself.

I was visiting the Oshawa station and its environs when I spotted HEPX 200 at the far end of the Oshawa CN yard.  HEPX 200 is a Schnabel car owned by Hydro One (formerly Ontario Hydro).  Schnabel cars are very specialised and are designed to carry very heavy loads, in Hydro One's case this is usually large electrical transformers.  These cars are made of two halves that separate, the load is put in between and then carried on the railway.  These cars come in all sizes and have multiple axles (HEPX 200 has 20) to spread the weight and are specially articulated to negotiate curves and any trackside obstacles.  To learn more about HEPX 200, visit Tom Daspit's page on it.

After a while, the CN yard power finished shuffling the autoracks around the yard, leaving the Schnabel and its caboose (HEPX 79640) directly opposite the station building.  This made for a great photo.  Now if I could only see a loaded Schnabel...

Good news for #219

Some of you may recall that the Northern Ontario Railroad Museum and Heritage Centre was able to buy former Ontario Northland steam locomotive #219, saving this piece of history from the scrap heap.

Since they bought 219, NORMHC has been fundraising to help pay for transportation of the locomotive from Cochrane to Capreol. 

As my photo of 219 from last April shows, the locomotive has been left to deteriorate for years and is in need of a great deal of work.  The Museum has been tracking down missing parts of the locomotive so that they can restore it.  To date, four marker lamps, the rear tender light, the smokestack, the bell and the number board have been located.  If you know the whereabouts of a piece of 219, please contact the museum.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Bus service complaints up after Northlander train cancellation

I think it is natural for people to complain when they are forced to change their routines.  However, for the complaints to be up so sharply and for the buses to be overcrowded, it appears that the Northlander wasn't such a bad idea after all.
Bus service complaints up after Northlander train cancellation - CBC News

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

First Draft Complete

Topping out at over 20,000 words, the first draft of my upcoming book, Call of the Northland, has now been written.  I am expecting to publish it next year, but the whole process of editing and rewriting must still be done.  I think the final word count will be much higher as I add details and more information to the text.

The book is divided into two parts.  The first half discusses the history of the Ontario Northland Railway (and the T&NO before that) and the politics surrounding the decision to divest the ONTC in 2012.  There have been many histories of the ONR over the years, but mine will focus primarily on the divestment (notably the end of the Northlander), while also highlighting previous attempts to close the railway.  The second half is an account of my first, and only, trip to Cochrane and my impressions as a first-time visitor.

I will also include photos of my trip and of the last Northlanders on September 28 of this year.  I was granted access to the platforms of Union Station in Toronto to witness the departure of the last northbound Northlander.  Later in the day, I photographed the last southbound Northlander using Toronto's skyline as a backdrop.  I offer this shot as a sneak-peek of things to come in the book:

Stay tuned for more updates as work on the book progresses.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Fedeli will deliver New Deal petitions to Queen's Park

A petition: tangible evidence of how upset people are with Dalton McGuinty's government.
Fedeli will deliver New Deal petitions to Queen's Park

Saturday, October 06, 2012

King Road Grade Separation

This weekend, construction on a new grade separation in Burlington is snarling rail traffic on the Lakeshore West corridor.  However, the project management has installed two webcams on the site.  It's not every day that you get to see railway construction from the comfort of home!
King Road Grade Separation

Trackside Treasure: ONR - The Northlander

Eric Gagnon has just posted a very interesting collection of old photos and timetables from the glory days of the Northlander.  I especially like the old timetable and promotional material.
Trackside Treasure: ONR - The Northlander

Northlander employees bring anger to Sudbury

A protest took place outside Rick Bartolucci's Sudbury office yesterday.  Even with the Northlander gone, it is clear that opposition to the plan to divest the ONTC is still strong.
Northlander employees bring anger to Sudbury | Sudbury Star

'ONTC belongs in the hands of MTO,' Fedeli

Repeating a call that has been made since March.
'ONTC belongs in the hands of MTO,' Fedeli

Friday, October 05, 2012

Arbitration set for Oct. 23

While Northlander workers were unable to get an injunction to allow the train to keep running, their case will be heard in a few weeks.  Currently, the employees are still being paid, but that will start to change when the company starts shuffling staff at the end of this month.
Arbitration set for Oct. 23 | North Bay Nugget

It’s not about numbers, it’s about people

A tribute to the human side of the ONTC.
It’s not about numbers, it’s about people | Your online newspaper for North Bay, Ontario

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Work begins on new East Region Rail Maintenance Facility

A few weeks ago, construction on GO Transit's new East Region Rail Maintenance Facility in Whitby officially began.  The project is part of GO's plans to extend GO train service from Oshawa eastwards to Bowmanville.  I decided to take a look at how work was progressing at the site.

GO train #913 heads west past the construction site

This past Sunday, I spent an hour watching the work.  Much of the land has been cleared and levelled already and a crew were busy removing the last of the trees from the site.  Train-wise, it was also a busy morning as the usual complement of GO and VIA trains was bolstered by an eastbound freight and a ballast train.

CN 5949 at Whitby

The ballast train was lead by CN 5949, a former Kansas City Southern SD40-3 that CN had kept in storage until earlier this year.  These distinctive grey units are frequently used on work trains.

I look forward to keeping an eye on construction at the site and will label all future updates as "ERRMF_Whitby".

Last train ride a historic moment

More stories from the end of the Northlander, this time from a historian and a former ONR employee.
Last train ride a historic moment | Your online newspaper for North Bay, Ontario

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Northlander on CBC

When the Ontario government first announced the sale of the ONTC, I was disappointed by how little coverage the CBC gave to the issue.  As the months have gone by, they have had some very good coverage, often of subjects (such as the native perspective) neglected by other media outlets.

On 30 September, CBC's flagship news show The National broadcast a very good piece on the end of the Northlander and its effect on the north.  The piece focuses on the human factor, not the money that the government claims it will save.  It also provided a national, rather than provincial, platform for the story.

I was very surprised to find that I was in it.  Right at the beginning, there is a shot of the Northlander pulling out of the station.  A man stands up and waves as the locomotive passes him.  Well that's me!  There we are, I have been on national television, I only wish I hadn't had to be there and that the train was still running.

Ontera Sales Process Begins

With the Northlander out of the way, it's time to sell Ontera.
Infrastructure Ontario | Ontera Sales Process Begins

More Northlander Memories

More press coverage of the last run of the Northlander.

Timmins Times: "Memories of the Last Train Ride"

Northern Ontario Business: "Northlander Makes its Final Run"

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

How McGuinty Stopped a Train and Started a Fight

Reflections from Charlie Angus on the last run of the Northlander.
Charlie Angus: How McGuinty Stopped a Train and Started a Fight

Le dernier voyage du Northlander

La plupart des article sur mon site sont en anglais.  Mais il y a aussi des médias francophones qui ont traité la fin du Northlander.  Radio-Canada a un excellent site qui donne une bonne synthèse de l'histoire du train de Toronto à Cochrane.
Le dernier voyage du Northlander |

Sunday, September 30, 2012

ONTC: Arbitrator says no

Trains magazine reported earlier this week that the arbitrator in the case between the ONTC unions and management has decided that the Northlander does not need to continue running while the grievance is heard.  ONTC unions complained that they had not received 90-days notice of the cancellation of the service.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Northlander is Gone

Yesterday, hundreds of people across Ontario came out to say their goodbyes to the Northlander.  I was fortunate enough to have arranged to meet the ONR staff in Toronto and to photograph the last northbound train leaving from the platforms at Union Station.  There was a large media presence, and a police one too.  I am glad to see the media paid attention, but I wonder where they were back in March?

In the evening, I photographed the southbound Northlander set against the Toronto skyline.  In time, I will be posting photographs of this historic, but sad, day in Ontario's railway history.

For now, here is a round-up of some of the media coverage of the end of the Northlander.

No doubt more stories and commentary will appear in the coming days.  Stay tuned.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rick Bartolucci Wrote Me a Letter

If everything goes to plan, this message will appear as the Northlander departs Toronto Union Station on the morning of 28 September 2012 at 08.40 AM (Toronto time).  Never again will the iconic train stop to pick-up passengers and take them north.  After 35 years of service, today the Northlander dies.

On Thursday, I received a letter from the Ministry of Northern Development and Mines.  It was from the minister, Rick Bartolucci - or at least his office.  I had written to him some time ago to make the case, just as so many people and groups have, for saving the ONTC.  His response was cordial and somewhat "your call is important to us", but it failed to really answer my questions.  That is perhaps fitting, seeing as the minister has failed to effectively respond to any serious questions throughout the debate over the sale of the ONTC.

Despite his claims that the Northlander is a parallel service (GO buses and GO trains are, of course, also parallel), that Highway 11 is efficient (if you happen to own a car or like to sit on a bus that doesn't have tables and room to walk around) and that the economy is in a mess (which is exactly when the govenment must step in to protect the vulnerable from cuts), he cannot explain why the government is giving up on a 110-year old system.  Nobody believes that the system can continue as it is.  It is broken.  This is not a problem that can go away by throwing money at it.  A fix will take time, it will take effort and some people will lose their jobs.  The Northlander would probably be cut back to 3 or 4 times a week, but it could still run.  This has not been a good year for Ontario, but now is not the time to make it worse.  Mr. Bartolucci, I am not satisfied with this government's performance.  I know I am not alone.

When I was growing up, I used to pick up travel brochures for Ontario Northland.  To me, it was a mythical thing, taking people to a barren land I had never seen before.  This year, I actually got to visit that barren land and it touched me.  The varied landscape showed me that there are still places in the world that are pristine.  The people were friendly and welcoming towards me.  They deserve as much from this government as anyone, but they get so much less.  It's not really a barren land; rather it is a rich one.  Rich in history and tradition - a tradition centred around the Ontario Northland Railway.  Until the railway, only the First Nations lived in much of northern Ontario.  It wasn't until steel rails headed north that Cochrane, Timmins, Swastika, Cobalt and so many other places came into being.  In a strange way, I am indebted to the government.  Without their announcement last March, I would probably have never taken the time to visit the north, learn its history and understand their need for the ONTC.  If it weren't for Rick Bartolucci's decision, I wouldn't be writing this now.

Thank you Mr. Bartolucci.  Thank you for taking the time to respond.  We might not agree about the ONTC, but at least my views were noted.

Residents invited to join the Reinstate the Northlander rally this Friday

The fight for Ontario Northland starts a new phase.
Residents invited to join the Reinstate the Northlander rally this Friday

Extra buses slated for long weekend

Only weeks after the Northlander is cancelled, the first big test for a road-only North Bay to Toronto service.
Extra buses slated for long weekend | North Bay Nugget

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Temagami tourism may suffer with end of rail service

Another example of how the sale of the ONTC might make sense - if it had been handled differently.
Temagami tourism may suffer with end of rail service - CBC News

Please be advised that the Northlander passenger train will no longer operate after Friday

An open invitation for the Liberals to ride the last train.
Please be advised that the Northlander passenger train will no longer operate after Friday

The End of EMD London

The last chapter in the bitter fight at the EMD plant in London has now been written.  This week, the last five units to be built at the facility left the plant to begin their move to the Kansas City Southern.  This brings to an end over 60 years of locomotive production in London.  Walter Pfefferle was on hand to record this last move.  Here is his video:

ONTC sell-off built 'resentment,' says former MPP

I'm sure retired politicians love to sit back and see what a mess their successors are making.  This article highlights some very key points.  I think that one could make an erudite argument for selling the ONTC and allowing the private sector to run services themselves.  However, this is not what the government has done.  Instead, they announced their plans before clearly planning the divestiture process.  Coupled with the lack of consultation and transparency, the government did not handle the issue in a way that leant credibility to their case.  Regardless of the merits of the economic case for divestiture, the way the plans were announced made the opposition and the bad press inevitable.
ONTC sell-off built 'resentment,' says former MPP - CBC News

Huntsville station mails guest book to McGuinty

Showing the human face of the ONTC issue to Dalton McGuinty.
CottageCountryNow Article: Huntsville station mails guest book to McGuinty

Passengers reminisce with railway memories

Canada's history is held together by railways.  These letters prove it.
CottageCountryNow Article: Passengers reminisce with railway memories

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

ONTC Press Release: The End of the Northlander

"Please be advised that the Northlander passenger train will no longer operate after Friday, September 28, 2012." So begins a press release from the ONTC put out Wednesday evening.  Confirmation does not get more absolute.

Read the full press release here

ONTC workers left wondering about jobs

The Northlander stops running on Friday.  Then what?  So far, nobody is clear as to how many employees will lose their jobs, or when.
ONTC workers left wondering about jobs - CBC News

In a related development, Trains Magazine is reporting that the unions representing the ONR workers are meeting with an arbitrator and the ONTC this week to discuss their grievance that they were not given 90-days notice for the end of the Northlander service.   A decision is expected later this week.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

The Ontario Northland News Archive

 The Northlander in happier times

Since the Ontario government announced the divestiture of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission on March 23, I have been writing about the issue and posting links to articles about the decision. 

In this, the last week of the Northlander service between Toronto and Cochrane, I thought it was fitting to remind readers that both my views on the issue and all the news links are tagged with the label "ONR_Sale" and can be accessed through my Ontario Northland News Archive - click here!

With the end of the Northlander this Friday, a chapter in the fight to stop the divestiture process closes.  However, this is not the end of the struggle.  There are other ONTC divisions to try and save and a Liberal government that needs to be held accountable for its actions.

Monday, September 24, 2012

The social pricetag for the ONTC

If you listen to Dalton McGuinty's Liberal government, the case for the dismantling and sale of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission is purely based on numbers: the cost of the subsidies, the limited number of riders and the money the government needs to save.  Never does this side of the case consider the human cost.

So many of the articles and issues that I have covered here deal with that human cost.  Many have dealt with the cases of communities losing some of their transport options, greater difficulty for people to get to medical appointments and the loss of a good form of public transport.  Others have dealt with the workers, nearly 1,000 in all, who face an uncertain future either in the private sector with new employers or unemployed if they are deemed surplus to requirement.  The North Bay Nugget has shown how this uncertainty is hurting the employees at the Transportation Commission.  Stress levels are up, morale is down. 

A man is angry with his wife, he breaks a wooden dowel over a dresser in a moment of rage.  He pleads guilty in court.  Another man, agitated, slits his throat at work.  This could be the plot from a social realist novel, there would be a TV mini-series too.  There would be, that is, if it weren't true.  Both of these incidents are tangible examples of how the environment at Ontario Northland is becoming toxic as the government slowly picks away at the 110-year-old institution.  Mental health and counselling resources in the north, already understaffed and underfunded, are gearing up for an increase in the number of patients as the divestment process goes ahead.  The same goes for employment agencies in a part of the province often short of jobs.

So here we are, the last week of the Northlander.  The media will cover the last run and then life will continue.  But then what?  The fight isn't really over.  There are other divisions to try and save and people will need help to pick up the pieces of their lives.  What is the human cost of the end of the ONTC?  A lot higher than the monetary figure Dalton McGuinty quotes.

Northerners ponder separating from Ontario

It's hard to tell if the CBC is overstating the desire for a separate province, but it is clear that the Ontario government often neglects the north of the province in favour of the richer and riding-heavy south.

The CBC hasn't offered much coverage on the ONTC issue on their website since the sale was announced back in March.  However, they are hoping to have coverage from the last train on Friday.

Is it time for a new province?  Separation is certainly back in the Canadian news after the Parti Québécois victory this month.
Northerners ponder separating from Ontario - Sudbury - CBC News

Hmmmm: Tory MPP supports unions' bitter fight with Liberals

Vic Fedeli tries again.  
Hmmmm: Tory MPP supports unions' bitter fight with Liberals

Friday, September 21, 2012

Whitby Rail Maintenance Facility will be Built

It's official!  The long-anticipated GO Transit maintenance facility in Whitby will be built.  The announcement was made yesterday, although no completion date has been announced.

In recent months, workers began clearing the site, suggesting that the plan would indeed go ahead.  The facility will be important for GO as it will create a maintenance hub to the east of Toronto.  Currently, all GO equipment must be serviced at the Mimico site west of downtown Toronto. 

Press release here.

Durham Region News article here.

This is not the first plan to build a maintenance facility in Whitby.  In the mid 1980s, the proposed light rail line from Durham Region to Toronto included plans to build maintenance shops in Whitby, essentially where GO's facility will be built.  For more details on the history of the site, see my book Stand Clear of the Doors.