The recent brief Via Rail labour dispute and train delays because of poor track conditions have highlighted just how important transportation is to Northern Manitoba communities.
Thicket Portage, Pikwitonei and Ilford-War Lake are immediately impacted whenever there is a disruption in rail service. They have no other scheduled transportation service. Outside of the winter road season it is the only land-based transportation that serves the communities. The rail line is also vital to Churchill, which has no road to outside communities.
Whenever the rail service is disrupted it affects everything from people being able to bring in groceries to being able to attend medical appointments. It also has a significant impact on tourism.
Train service has been further complicated by the major track maintenance scheduled for this summer.
The first step has been to adjust the train schedule to continue service during the disruption. Via Rail has done a significant amount of work on this. One of the main concerns of the Bayline communities is to ensure there is a schedule that allows for same-day service to Thompson.
Another major concern has been to ensure that there is back up transportation whenever train service is not available. This often means chartering a plane to ensure people are not stranded.
In the future the vulnerability of train service to disruption also leads to the need to look at having other transportation options available. There has been a proposal to construct a road from Ilford to York Landing. This would allow people in War Lake and Ilford to connect to the ferry in York Landing. It would also give people in York Landing access to the rail line year round. There has also been discussion of using water-based transportation into Thicket Portage and Pikwitonei. We need to be looking at these types of creative proposals.
As MLA for Thompson I will be continuing to work with people along the Bayline to ensure they have the transportation access they deserve.