George Allan Tucker
Special to the St. Marys Journal Argus
On Saturday afternoon, Oct. 26, I drove to Sarnia to attend an inaugural Community Event hosted by Rail Advisory In Lambton – a.k.a. RAIL. The highlight of this event was the southwestern Ontario premiere screening of the documentary film “De-Railed: The National Dream,” about the crumbling state of the Canadian railway system.
(Travelling by VIA to this destination was only an option if it was convenient for me to arrive in Sarnia around 5 p.m. and that would be assuming that Robert Q. minibus service — responsible for the London to Sarnia portion of the voyage — would not be delayed by a flat tire or foul weather on Highway 402. Considering that the meeting was scheduled for 2-4 p.m. at the Sarnia Library Theatre, my dimpled ’03 Civic had to be gassed up for the three-hour cross-country round trip.)
The filmmaker, Dan Nystedt, was on hand to introduce this “self-financed” project and to answer questions about his work. It was interesting to learn that Dan was the 1991 Student Council President at Fanshawe College.
The film introduced the idea of the need to develop a “Train Culture” as opposed to nurturing nostalgic remembrances of the train systems of the past. Dan suggests that we are essentially being faced with a “Quality of Life question” and that, by bringing back the trains, we will provide a true legacy for our children and future generations of Canadians.
His film was not only about the obvious necessity for improved passenger rail services, but provided vivid examples of the negative impact of eliminating short line freight options for western farmers and other industrial entities throughout Canada. Comparisons of the efficiencies of moving heavy loads long distance by rail as opposed to long distance trucking were well documented.
The contribution of a reinvigorated rail system to lowering our collective carbon footprint is undeniable. Likewise, there is already and overwhelming need for reinvestment in rail infrastructure. Billions are being spent on our beloved Ontario roads, primarily in the GTA, whereas in reality, a paltry few million is budgeted for rail.
A delegation of students from Lambton College was on hand to pitch their views on the need for affordable, reliable transportation options for their out-of-town students to travel to Sarnia in order to attend classes and for travel to and from their home towns during their stay in residence. Lambton College is in its 47th year and currently has its main campus in Sarnia, the Fire and Public Safety Centre of Excellence (FPSCE) just outside city limits, and an Employment and Learning Centre in Petrolia. The College serves over 3,500 full-time students, 6,500 part timers, with 280 in residence.
One only has to do the math to see the potential for travel options from this single institution. The multi-million dollar FPSCE draws the majority of its training clients from outside the community and even internationally. Its location is about an hour by bus/taxi from the VIA station.
Upon returning from Sarnia I went on-line to try to get a focus on exactly where our overall Ontario Railway Systems stand. For a snapshot of these systems visit: http://www.sinfin.net/railways/world/canada/ontario.html.