Sudbury

Polar Bear Express suspended as fears of COVID-19 spread

Ontario Northland says it’s temporarily suspending rail service between Cochrane and Moosonee – the Polar Bear Express – in an attempt to keep COVID-19 out of remote northern communities.

Passenger train connecting Cochrane to Moosonee could also bring deadly virus to remote communities

Ontario Northland is planning to bring back passenger rail service between Toronto and the north in this decade, but where the train will stop is still up for debate. (Ontario Northland )

Ontario Northland says it's temporarily suspending rail service between Cochrane and Moosonee – the Polar Bear Express – in an attempt to keep COVID-19 out of remote northern communities.

The rail service carried over 50,000 passengers in 2018-19, and connects passengers in Moosonee and Moose Factory to Cochrane. 

Ontario Northland had reduced the Polar Bear's schedule on March 20, but announced its full suspension of services Wednesday, saying it was doing its best to help people "especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19."

Ontario Northland made the decision after consultation with the Government of Ontario, Mushkegowuk Council, Moose Cree First Nation, the town of Moosonee and the local health authority, the company said in a press release. 

It will re-evaluate the situation in two weeks, the company said.

Ontario Regional Chief RoseAnne Archibald said that she was relieved when she heard the company was halting trains.

"It is important to ensure that there are accessibility protections in place for the members of the First Nation communities on the James Bay coast," Archibald said in a press release. "The coronavirus could easily overwhelm First Nation communities if we do not take extreme measures, and Ontario Northland has listened and taken direct action for the protection of all."

Earlier this week, Moose Cree First Nation Chief Mervin Cheechoo said the Mushkegowuk council had lobbied Ontario Northland to cut its service out of fears the virus could spread north, where cramped living conditions make self-isolating a challenge.

On Monday, a worker at the Detour Lake gold mine tested positive for COVID-19. Chief Cheechoo said over 100 workers from Moose Cree First Nation worked at the site.

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