For Linda Savory-Gordon, railways are no romantic throwback to an earlier era. The Algoma University researcher has spent many years exploring how passenger rail service shapes communities. Trains, she says, are at least as important today as they ever were.
“I’ve always liked travelling by train,” she says, “but the issue goes well beyond my likes. I’m not nostalgic about rail – we need rail.”
Rail is particularly essential to the livelihood and economic prosperity of northern communities, for both transportation, and also for increasing cultural and eco-tourism.
“We need an alternative to the automobile and the airplane, and most places in the world have turned to rail as an important part of their transportation mix,” she says. “Despite the significance of rail in the history of our nation, we haven’t quite gotten there yet.”
For Savory-Gordon, the practice of saving passenger rail in the north is complex. With many of the regional rail beds sitting unused and neglected, and others being bought up by one or two rail monopolies for big-shipment freight service, capacity to deliver effective passenger service and smaller freight loads is dwindling.
Savory-Gordon works with community partners, including First Nations, municipalities and local businesses, to consult and collect data. This has led to an ongoing cycle of consultation, reflection, planning, and policy recommendations.
“The cost is low, and the benefit to the environment, the population sustainability of Northern Ontario brought on by attraction and retention of people to more remote communities, and the economic prosperity of underdeveloped areas is significant,” she says.
She is working toward a revitalized, functional, efficient rail network in Northern Ontario and beyond. While she recognizes the long, uphill battle ahead, she plans to go the distance.
“We need to maintain the connection that rail provides us,” she says. “There is too much at stake for us to abandon it.”
**Major funders for this research include Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, Rural Economic Development Program (Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs), Northern Ontario Youth Internship and Co-op Program (Ministry of Northern Development and Mines), and Job Creation Partnership Program (Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities).