Friday, May 13, 2016

Premier stresses ONR's importance

Nothing really new, but calling for an integration of northeastern and northwestern transportation makes sense. While Ontario Northland has always been synonymous with the North, it has really focused on the northeast.

>>>Premier stresses ONR's importance | North Bay Nugget<<<

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Ontario Northland, China and the Ring of Fire?

Edit 27 April: I received a message from Ontario Northland, explaining that the video was "supposed to be on private mode for internal view only" and it has since been deleted. The promotional video can still be found on KWG Resources' Youtube channel.

As the saga of the Ring of Fire continues, Chinese companies have taken a growing interest in the project. China is already one of the largest consumers of primary resources in the world and demand is expected to grow in the future. As a result, the Chinese government and enterprises are seeking new sources for the raw materials needed to fuel their economy.

This past month, a delegation from China Railway First Survey and Design Institute (FSDI) visited the development being undertaken by KWG Resources in the Ring of Fire. While the economic potential of the vast deposits of chromite was a key draw, the main reason for the visit was to allow a team of Chinese railway engineers to survey the possible routes for a rail link connecting the Ring of Fire with CN's main line.

After the delegation met with KWG, it held an introductory meeting with Ontario Northland before proceeding to Montreal for talks with CN. While nothing has been said regarding the meeting, Ontario Northland has since posted a translated promotional video for FSDI [edit 27 April: the video has since been removed] and has retweeted KWG's photo of the survey.

Screenshot of Ontario Northland''s Vimeo channel [Edit 27 April: video now removed]

FSDI is part of China's growing interest in railway construction. This includes such controversial projects as the Qinghai-Tibet railway, which human rights groups have claimed increases Chinese influence in the occupied territory. (FSDI is directly involved with the Tibet project). In 2006, a shareholder's proposal calling on Bombardier to adopt a robust human rights policy in light of their involvement with the project was defeated.

Other Chinese railway companies have been heavily involved in railway construction in Africa, including the ambitious East Africa railway project and the already-completed TAZARA Railway. The latter was the subject of a BBC documentary which demonstrated the lack of transparency in the project.

It is too soon to tell whether China will play a key role in the Ring of Fire, but recent developments have suggested that stakeholders are taking the possibility seriously. This leads to several important questions. To what extent would the Chinese government be directly involved in the Ring of Fire and its rail operations if FSDI or another company were to play a leading role in the project? How would China's human rights record play out with aboriginal communities, which make up the largest population in the Ring of Fire? If the BBC documentary on the TAZARA Railway is anything to by, how much transparency can be expected in a project which will likely receive funding from all levels of government in Canada?

The uncertainty surrounding the Ring of Fire and, by extension, the future of Ontario Northland has taken another interesting turn.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Old and new in the UK

Virgin Trains East Coast has now completed the process of rebranding its fleet of IC 125 and IC 225 trains. Despite being decades old, the new livery gives the trains a distinctly modern feel. 43309, London King's Cross 91120, South Otterington

In contrast, the Great Central Railway has done an excellent job trying to erase modernity from its property, as this image illustrates. D6535, Quorn & Woodhouse

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Friday, March 04, 2016

Rail supporters reboot search for third-party operator

Despite three candidates putting forward offers, nobody has been able to present a robust plan for getting passenger service restored along the former Algoma Central line between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

>>>Rail supporters reboot search for third-party operator<<<

Friday, February 26, 2016

UPX Fares Slashed to Preserve Service

Last summer, Toronto finally joined the list of world cities with a rail link connecting the city centre to the airport. Several months into the service, ridership is dropping, with many trains running at 10% capacity. During the Family Day weekend, the trains ran free of charge, which resulted in lineups and over 10,000 passengers per day using the service.

Novelty aside, the weekend experiment demonstrated that people are willing to use public transit - if the price is right. In a bid to stem the loss of ridership, Metrolinx has voted to slash (I think that is a reasonable term to use) the Union Pearson Express fares by more than 50% in the hopes of attracting more passengers, not just to the airport, but also to form a commuter base using the intermediate stations. You can read about the new fares in the following newsletter: Think Forward – February 23 board meeting (special edition).

The reasons I bring up the plight of the UPX is to draw a comparison with the Northlander, which was cancelled in 2012. When its ridership numbers were less than ideal (although not actually in decline, as the government of the time claimed), the train was simply cancelled and the additional bus service promised to fill in the void never materialized.

Fast forward four years and we have a frequent airport shuttle running virtually empty. However, unlike the Northlander (which was primarily serving Northern Ontario), the UPX serves Toronto. As a result, we see fares cut in a move which will undoubtedly mean greater government subsidy. As I, and many other people, have been pointing out for years, there are two Ontarios - Toronto and the rest.

There were a variety of options which could have helped the Northlander, including a reduction in frequency (although six times a week was hardly extravagant - in contrast, the UPX runs four times per hour) or lower fares, but cancellation appeared to be the only option the government was willing to try.

Given the current fiscal tension, one has to wonder (albeit with tongue-in-cheek), whether it might not be time to begin the divestment of the Union Pearson Express. After all, it seemed to fix the government's little Northlander problem.