North and West


I'm writing this in the White River Motel in White River, a couple hundred kilometres northwest of Sudbury. This is the first long distance transit trip I've taken since my Boston run back in February 2020. It's been a long time in coming.

To accomplish this, I caught an early GO Train from Kitchener to Toronto, then caught a GO Train from Toronto to Barrie, then hopped aboard the Ontario Northland bus from Barrie to Sudbury. After staying overnight in Sudbury, I walked over to the VIA Rail station and boarded the train to White River. Before the pandemic, this train operated thrice-weekly, but today only operates weekly, with a train from Sudbury to White River heading out on a Saturday, and a train returning from White River to Sudbury on Sunday.

There's a lot to recommend this trip. The scenery, especially during fall, is among the best in Canada this side of the Rockies -- better even than what the current Canadian travels when it goes through Northern Ontario. For railfans, it's also among the last places where the classic self-propelled RDC "Budd" cars now travel. It's also a working train, serving communities between Sudbury and White River where no other connection is possible.

These days, it's amazing to think that one could travel from Kitchener to Sudbury using only public transit in a day, or reach White River in two. But the truth is that this trip is remnant of what was possible just thirty years ago. White River is on the Canadian Pacific mainline where trains passed through daily from Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa, on their way to Thunder Bay, Winnipeg, Calgary, and Vancouver. Whatever gain Metrolinx has been able to make in recent years, adding service to southwestern Ontario and the north of the GTA has been lost throughout most of the rest of the country thanks to malicious negligence from Conservative and Liberal governments.

Indeed, one other reason to take this trip is because it's very possible that it won't be here in ten years. The new equipment that the federal government has invested in VIA is welcome, but applies only to the Quebec-Windsor corridor. The proposed High Frequency Rail plan would be good, if it were more than just something on paper, but again it focuses on the "core" network, while ignoring the rest of the country that the railroads helped build. The Canadian transcontinental train is operating only once a week, and is only set to go back to twice-weekly operation once the pandemic ends. Deteriorating equipment and absolutely deplorable treatment by Canadian National has turned the service into a slog of a ride.

Riding from. Sudbury to White River, I can see how much this country needs its trains. Even in their reduced capacity, the service brings Canadians to portions of their country they wouldn't otherwise see. They brings people to medical appointments they couldn't otherwise reach. They bring families together.

Canada needs to reinvest in its passenger rail system across the country. The White River line should operate daily, not weekly. It should operate from Toronto, to Sudbury, to White River, to Thunder Bay, and then to Winnipeg. The transcontinental Canadian should be daily. There should be trains serving Winnipeg and Vancouver via Calgary as well as Edmonton. And we should restore service to the Northlander now.

This will cost money to invest in equipment and to negotiate a deal with the freight railroads to give these trains space to operate efficiently and at the fastest speeds possible, but it's worth it. It would boost the tourism industry in several areas of this country that could use it. It would improve the quality of life of many Canadians. All of Canada needs this, not just southern Ontario. And we need to make our politicians do it.

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