Teamsters advocate plan to increase railway freight revenues from mining and making passenger service more efficient with GO Train-like equipment, shorter trains
OTTAWA, March 26, 2012 /CNW/ - Queen's Park has alternatives to selling off the 106-year-old Ontario Northland Railway and killing jobs and negatively impacting thousands of lives in Northern Ontario, says the head of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees, which represents 200 ONR workers.
"There is a lot that can be done to make the ONR more efficient instead of the government simply washing its hands of a railway that has been an integral part of the fabric of life in Northern Ontario for more than a century and an essential service to many communities," says William Brehl, president of the union representing maintenance workers. "In the end, this is not only about a balance sheet; this is about the quality of life for tens of thousands of Northern Ontario families. We hope this is not some political game risking something so important to the North, simply to buy votes for tomorrow's provincial budget."
The Liberal minority government needs at least two votes from Opposition parties to pass the budget and prevent a second election within half a year. On Friday, Northern Development and Mines Minister Rick Bartolucci announced the "winding down" of the government-owned Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. The board of the ONTC was dissolved and an interim board was set up with the mandate to cut passenger rail service and sell off other parts of the operation, such as rail freight, rail refurbishment and Ontera Telecommunications. Some services — like passenger rail between Cochrane and Toronto — will be cancelled outright.
If the ONTC plans proceed, the immediate impact will mean more heavy trucks on the roads, particularly Highway 11, because one train transports as much freight as 50 trucks or more and it will mean significant job losses in the fragile Northern Ontario economy.
Brehl says the government has not given ONR President Paul Goulet enough time or enough support to make the railway more efficient.
"For one thing, Queen's Park can stick to its own legislation and require all the refining from the so-called 'Ring of Fire' be done in Ontario because the ONR would be a vital link in transporting the minerals and this would help its balance sheet," Brehl says.
The Ring of Fire in Northern Ontario, about twice as large as Prince Edward Island, is said to hold one of the world's largest and richest deposits of chromite, the key ingredient in making stainless steel. It is also said to possess nickel, copper, platinum, gold, zinc and magnesium. Mineral extraction is scheduled to begin in a year and McGuinty's government is under pressure from American and Chinese interests to grant an exemption to the Ontario Mining Act and allow the lion's share of refining be done in China.
There are other ways to make ONR more efficient, including lighter passenger trains like those at GO Transit, cutting back the number of cars if there are not enough passengers to fill them, even re-evaluating work processes and compensation from senior management right through the entire organization. He also suggests better marketing to entice tourists from Southern Ontario to explore the North via the ONR.
"This is not only about our members and their families or the 1,000 jobs at ONTC, it is about a vital piece of the economy in Northern Ontario that impacts thousands of lives. In fact, it was Dalton McGuinty himself who called ONTC vital to the North and promised during the 2003 election that 'we will not allow it to be privatized.' So much for his promises," Brehl adds.
A social media campaign has commenced with a Facebook page called "Ontario Northland…Not For Sale" with 14,000 members in the first 72 hours.
Teamsters Canada Rail Conference Maintenance of Way Employees Division (TCRC-MWED), a division of Teamsters Canada, represents more than 4,000 maintenance of way workers at more than 20 short line railroads across Canada, including the ONR, and at CP Rail, one of Canada's two main railways. Its members are involved in inspecting, monitoring and repairing the tracks, bridges and structures on the network. TCRC-MWED's mission is to make sure that the railway is safe, in spite of any economic, managerial or other obstacles.
For further information:
(613) 889-8620 - cell