This page is archived and no longer maintained. For updates click here.

Monday, May 25, 2015

It's another shoo-fly!

Construction continues in Whitby / La construction continue à Whitby
A few weeks back, I went to the Hopkins Street overpass to see whether there had been any progress on the new South Blair Street underpass and the adjacent GO maintenance facility. There wasn't much to see, but I did spend several harrowing hours with thousands of flies.

Hoping that the flies had disappeared, I returned yesterday only to be accosted by another kind of fly - a shoo-fly.

Shoo-fly tracks are when railways build a temporary track diversion around construction, subsidence or any other obstacle. The GO Sub has featured a shoo-fly since last year to allow for the construction of the underpass and recently the north track of the CN Kingston Sub has followed suit. Here, you can see CN 8941 slowly leading a freight through the freshly-ballasted track. Operationally, this is going to be complicated because the north track now has a temporary speed restriction of 30mph for about half a mile through the construction. I expect the RTC will be routing as much traffic as they can over the south track.

Meanwhile, a new chain link fence has been built surrounding the site of the future GO maintenance facility (in the right of the image) and hefty gates have been installed on the access roads. It seems to me that the site has been levelled again, but otherwise there are few signs of construction continuing.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Northern roads make CAA "Canada's Worst Roads" list

Every year, the CAA asks motorists to nominate the worst roads in Ontario (so why is it called Canada's Worst Roads?). This year, Algonquin Boulevard in Timmins took 1st and 2nd places. The city's Riverside Drive came 8th. Highway 144 in Greater Sudbury came 4th. With 40% of the top ten roads in a part of the province with less than 10% of the provincial population, can somebody explain to me why driving in the north (as opposed to taking the now-cancelled train) is a better alternative?

>>>CAA - Canadas Worst Roads<<<

Read free excerpts of Call of the Northland! (3)

I have teamed up with Stan Sudol's Republic of Mining website to bring you several free extracts from Call of the Northland.

For the final extract, you can read about how the Ring of Fire might influence the future of the ONTC from chapter 14, "Transformation"! Click here.

Like what you read? Consider getting your own copy of Call of the Northland:

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

NEOMA supports First Nations' railway proposal

In its latest incarnation, the Mushkegowuk plan to take over and expand the ONR into the Ring of Fire is even more ambitious, and now includes plans to improve hydro infrastructure as well. However, as Peter Politis points out, provincial government support for the ONTC remains ambiguous at best. Even if divestment is no longer on the table, the transformation process has seen further service reductions. Under the Mushkegowuk plan, the ONTC (or at least the ONR) would probably be taken out of provincial hands altogether, essentially becoming a private entity.

At stake here is perhaps the distinction between a government-owned transportation network and a largely privately-owned one. The question is, which one will provide a better, more secure, service?

>>>NEOMA supports First Nations' railway proposal | Timmins Press<<<

Friday, May 15, 2015

Read free excerpts of Call of the Northland (2)

I have teamed up with Stan Sudol's Republic of Mining website to bring you several free extracts from Call of the Northland.

For the second extract, you can read about Cobalt, Ontario from chapter 4, "The North"! Click here.

Like what you read? Consider getting your own copy of Call of the Northland:

Read free excerpts of Call of the Northland! (1)

I have teamed up with Stan Sudol's Republic of Mining website to bring you several free extracts from Call of the Northland.

For the first extract, you can read the entirety of chapter 1, "First Steps to the North"! Click here.

Like what you read? Consider getting your own copy of Call of the Northland:

CEO confident 'Tidal wave' of work coming

As tank cars need to be retrofitted to meet improved safety standards, the ONTC is hoping that much of the work will come to North Bay.

>>>CEO confident 'Tidal wave' of work coming | North Bay Nugget<<<

Saturday, May 09, 2015

Corina Moore, you are ignoring history

This past week saw the interim president of the ONTC, Corina Moore, spoke at the FONOM meeting in Sudbury. Unfortunately, her comments were not helpful and have alienated workers at the 113-year-old transportation commission.

As reported by CBC, Moore explained that the Commission was in a "crisis situation". I couldn't agree more. As my research into the ONTC showed, it has been losing money for the past few decades as inadequate subsidies and the precarious economic and demographic situation in the north made for a difficult market to operate in.

However, Moore went a step further, saying that the ONTC needed a "culture shift" away from "entitlement" and towards a more competitive framework. This reflects previous statements she made regarding the need for a more competitive organization, but also suggests that the ONTC has been some sort of spoilt child. I disagree, my experience with the ONTC showed hard-working people who provided essential services connecting, not only northeastern Ontario, but also the north to the south.

My real issue, however, is a comment that the CBC reports Moore made to the effect that "the future will be challenging because the company hasn't seen much change in 113 years." As Call of the Northland argues, the past 113 years have seen enormous changes at the ONTC. As trucks became a threat to the railway's business, the ONR spent $600,000 to purchase local trucking firm Star Transfer, allowing for the integration of road and rail freight. Seeing the potential of tourism, the T&NO (the predecessor to the ONTC) took over boat excursions on Lake Temagami (in 1943) and Lake Nipissing (in 1945). Even more crucial was the introduction of the Polar Bear Express as a tourist trip in 1964. More recently, the ONTC ran its own airline from 1971 until the mid-1990s. This provided timely connections between communities. The  1977 introduction of the Northlander was a huge success. Even more recently, the ONTC's refurbishment division's work has been lauded as some of the highest-quality in North America. The company hasn't seen much change? Really?

Unsurprisingly, Unifor (which represents almost half of the ONTC's workers) was quick to criticize the statement. The president of Local 103, Andy Mitchell, was right when he said that "To publicly state that Ontario Northland has not changed in 113 years demonstrates either a lack of familiarization with ONTC or a deliberate scheme to undermine its value and purpose, with the ultimate intent to rebrand the sell-off of the ONTC as transformational".

A disturbing part of the ONTC divestment and transformation process has been deliberate misinformation. The Ontario government's claims about declining Northlander ridership were simply wrong. To say that the ONTC has not changed is simply to ignore history. The past few decades have indeed been very difficult for the ONR, the government has (until recently) cut back subsidies, industries have closed and the improvements to Highway 11 have made driving a slightly less onerous prospect. But, for Corina Moore to confuse the recent history of the ONTC with the agency's entire legacy is both inaccurate and a disservice to all of the people who developed winning strategies to keep the ONTC relevant to the north.

I would be remiss not to mention Metrolinx, the current darling of the government. The Toronto area is growing at an astounding pace and it desperately needs public transportation. I am happy to report that it has never been easier to get around the region without a car, but the development comes at a cost. Looking down from the north, how could northern Ontario not feel left out? As Toronto-area commuters are treated to improved train service, double-decker buses, new light rail lines and even an express train to Pearson Airport. Northern Ontario lost the Northlander three years ago and is losing bus stations as we speak. As Ontario Northland is told to become more competitive and efficient, Metrolinx seems to have an unlimited budget.

The ONTC needs to change - everyone agrees with that. However, what we need is constructive, accurate, dialogue. Recognize that the ONTC has changed before and that is can change again. I do think that there has been complacency recently, but that does not reflect the full story.

The transformation of the ONTC presents an exciting opportunity for positive change. A fair ammount of trust has been lost between the government, the ONTC and northern residents. Now is the chance for all sides to come together and heal the rifts which several years of bad decisions have caused.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Time for a New Tank Car: the DOT-117

Today, Transport Canada and the US Department of Transportation announced new standards for tank cars. The DOT-111 design has been roundly criticized for being unable to withstand the impacts sustained during a derailment. Even modified versions of the design proved inadequate, as this winter's derailments near Gogama demonstrated: both featured retrofitted cars.

The new design, dubbed the TC-117 or DOT-117, features more robust a heat-resistant construction, better shielding at both ends and stronger valves to prevent liquids from spilling in case of a derailment. This handy-dandy infographic shows off the new design. For those of you with detailed knowledge of car construction and engineering (so, that means not me!), Transport Canada has also posted the full nuts-and-bolts details.

As to whether the new design will work or not, only time will tell. The Transportation Safety Board has reserved comment for now, while CP has welcomed the new design.

Rail remains a safe way to transport most things, but rolling stock designs must keep up with changes in the commodities they will be carrying.

Rail idea in Ring of Fire gathering steam

The ONR isn't for sale, but maybe it should be. Read on to see what I mean: Rail idea in Ring of Fire gathering steam | Timmins Press

I still think that government-owned should be the way to go, but the idea of a First Nations-administered route which would bring economic and social benefit is a tempting idea.