Monday, March 26, 2012

For sale: Ontario Northland Railroad

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Ontario's provincial government intends to end fiscal support of Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, which oversees the Ontario Northland Railroad, which receives C$103 million a year in provincial fiscal support.

The railroad operates Northlander passenger rail service between Cochrane, located in the province's northern, sparsely settled region, with Toronto six days a week. For now, Polar Bear Express service linking Cochrane with Moosonee, the railroad's northern terminus, would continue five days a week.. Buses would replace the rail service, provincial officials said Friday.

"After trying diligently without success since 2003 to help the ONTC become sustainable, financial realities have forced us to make this decision," said Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci. The minister said private bus lines already serve most of the northern communities receiving rail service.

Ontario Northland also provides freight rail service, and employs about 1,000 people. No firm date has been set for any sale of assets.

Opposition to any potential sale has arisen swiftly. In a statement Monday, Al Spacek, president of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities (FONOM), said, “It's not just the horrible ramifications this divestiture has for the people of Northern Ontario, it was also the way this decision was arrived at —in Toronto behind closed doors without any input from Northerners who are most impacted.” Spacek also serves as the mayor of Kapuskasing, Ontario.