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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: http://www.facebook.com/theNorthlander



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.

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

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 | Radio-Canada.ca