The economics of long-distance passenger rail service is brutal: this announcement is not really a surprise, but it is disappointing anyway.
If a train stops running through the hinterland, does anybody hear?
The Ontario government has just announced the end of the line for the Northlander. The Ontario Northland train that runs between Toronto and Cochrane, Ontario, will cease service at the end of September.
What’s the word for that? Disappointing doesn’t cut it. Short-sighted is accurate, but insufficient. Regrettable is an understatement, too.
You’d think as a nation once united by the railway, we would have coined a term to cover the loss, the heartache, the sense of isolation, betrayal and rejection that comes from losing a railway line.
The only expression that comes close is “they’ve killed another train.”
Time and time again, we’ve seen passenger service reduced to little more than a quaint memory in many parts of the country.
Despite the historical appeal, long distance passenger rail loses money just about everywhere: government subsidies have been necessary for decades to keep the trains running. Political jockeying may keep a line open for a longer period, but nothing is going to change the facts. Passenger trains can be competitive for short-to-medium distances, but quickly lose out in efficiency (and potential profits) to air service over medium-to-long distances. Every time someone rides a VIA or Ontario Northland passenger train, the taxpayer is picking up part of the tab (and the longer the distance being travelled, the greater the required subsidy from the government).
Garnet Rogers explains what happens next:
The last train rolled out of town today;
You might have seen it on the news.
We gathered round the engine yard
To say our good-byes to the crews.
Well the cheering stopped, the laughter died
It dwindled down the tracks
“That’s that”, I heard someone say,
“We’ve fallen through the cracks.”