Thunder Bay

Pressure grows for Via Rail return to Thunder Bay, Ont.

Social Media users are calling for a return of Via Rail through Thunder Bay as Greyhound bus cuts leave the city with one less transportation option to utilize. One former MP says its about time the federal government does something about it.

Former MP says "All fingers point to Ottawa" on Via Rail's return

Public pressure is mounting in Thunder Bay to have Via Rail come back through the city as the Greyhound cuts lead to a limited number of transportation options in the city. (The Canadian Press)

Cuts to Greyhound services across Western Canada and northwestern Ontario have garnered attention and outcry online from those who rely on the service.

Social media users are also now calling for the return of Via Rail through Thunder Bay and through parts of Northwestern Ontario.

Comments on social media had people discuss the lack of transportation options available in northwestern Ontario.

Bruce Hyer, a former MP for Thunder Bay- Superior North, has been a long time  advocate for via rail to resume service in all of Northwestern Ontario . He said the return of via rail to the north shore needs to be a federal issue.

"All fingers point to Ottawa on this," said Hyer. "It's a big deal environmentally as well as the convenience and the need of the people in the community."

Hyer said there is a "desperate" need to restore via rail, especially between Toronto and Winnipeg. Currently, Via Rail has the Canadian line, which goes from Toronto to Vancouver and the Toronto to Winnipeg line which service some northern Ontario communities.

Former Thunder Bay - Superior North MP Bruce Hyer says the federal government needs to be a part of the discussion to bring via rail back through Thunder Bay. (Green Party)

Via Rail already servicing many communities 

In an emailed response to CBC News for an interview with Via Rail, the company declined an interview. The company said it will not be increasing services and they already serve more than 400 communities.

"We serve many communities across Canada where VIA Rail provides an essential service and we remain committed to the communities that we serve. Two of our routes already serve many communities in Northern Ontario: between Sudbury-White River, and on the Canadian which makes many stops between Sudbury Jct-Rice Lake-Winnipeg," the company said in a written statement.

While both lines run through parts of northeastern and northwestern Ontario, neither line goes through Thunder Bay.

The nearest VIA Rail stations are Armstrong, Sioux Lookout, and White River, which are each about four hours from Thunder Bay.

'Via Rail is not doing a good job'

Hyer said Via Rail's service is heavily focused on Quebec and as a result, Quebec has strong rail service throughout the province. 

"It would be nice if they were serving those 400 communities, but they're servicing a handful in Southern Ontario and Quebec. When it comes to the Maritimes and Western Canada, all the way from Sudbury to Vancouver, its a different story," said Hyer. 'So Via Rail is not doing a good job."

Via Rail's Canadian route goes through some northern Ontario communities, but does not go through Thunder Bay. (Via Rail )

Despite the lack of service in parts of northwestern Ontario, Hyer says it is still no reason to turn to the privatization option of passenger rail transportation.

"We don't need more privatization of public services, said Hyer. "I know that's the Doug Ford message, the Donald Trump message, the Stephen Harper message. It's the wrong way to go."

Hyer says what Canada needs is a "good public transportation policy and strategy integrated with air, rail, and buses" similar to what already exists in places like Japan and Europe.


Kirthana Sasitharan is a Journalist with CBC News. Reach her on twitter @KirthanaSasitha.