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One of the big points that the mayor Al McDonald said in an interview (former MPP for Nipissing) the reason the province has continued involvement providing these services (Northlander, Polar Bear Express & Intercity Bus Service) is because most of the communities serviced by the ONR are simply just not viable serviced by the private sector. So regardless if the province divests itself from the ONTC, they would still have to subsidize the service in some capacity.
Let's face it, the reason there is a passenger train between Cochrane, North Bay & Toronto (and connecting service to Timmins, Kapuskasing & Hearst) is because of the incredible distance that exists between these northern cities, towns & villages from the Ontario capital. Though the highway between North Bay & Toronto is nearly four-laned, the argument that because most of the communities serviced by the Northlander have road access is not entirely reflective of the current reality. North of North Bay, highway 11 is a single laned highway for 1200 kms up until you arrive near Thunder Bay. Cellular service is hit & miss in certain areas (particularly on the stretch between North Bay, Temagami up to Latchford). The drive from Cochrane to Toronto is 716 km (1432 km return) & on a good day, takes about 8 to 9 hours drive (again one way).
Timmins to Toronto: 704 km / 9 hours
Kapuskasing to Toronto: 833 km / 11 hours
Hearst to Toronto: 929 km / 12 hours
Factor in bad weather, road closures (with generally no detours), the risk of striking wildlife (moose, deer, the occasional bear) & the incredible cost to fly and you have yourself an interesting situation living in Northern Ontario. I believe these are legitimate reasons to continue with the passenger rail & bus services and to expand those services (rail at least) to Sault Sainte Marie & the communities along the North Shore of Lake Huron in Sudbury & into North Bay.
La CTON n'est PAS à vendre! ~ The ONTC is NOT for sale!
Une nouvelle province au Canada: le nord de l'Ontario.
A new province in Canada: Northern Ontario