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"Dark shadow" cast over future of rail division.

"Dark shadow" cast over future of rail division

Environment Minister Ruth Grier's decision to stop Toronto from shipping its solid waste to Kirkland Lake has cast a dark shadow over the future of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission's rail division.

"Garbage was the one product which seemed to raise hope. The fact that the province said "No" has created difficulties for many of us in Northern Ontario," Ontario Northland general manager Peter Dyment admitted last month.

Dyment made the statement while speaking to more than 100 municipal politicians at the 31st-annual conference of the Federation of Northern Ontario Municipalities.

Dyment said garbage would "more than have replaced" coal in terms of generating revenue for the rail division of Ontario Northland.

"We can't get involved in the argument, so we're looking at other products (to ship)," he added.

Dyment reported that Ontario Northland (ONTC) lost 45 per cent of its rail business when the Sherman and Adams ore mines closed. He said the commission is attempting to make up for the loss by finding goods to ship to the north from southern Ontario.

During his 30-minute address Dyment gave a brief history of Ontario Northland as well as a report on the health of each of the commission's divisions - telecommunications, rail, marine, air, bus, truck transport, tourism, consulting, marketing and land development.

"We recognize that we have been dealt some deadly blows, but we are practical people..." he said, adding that Ontario Northland is prepared to become more efficient and to take on new challenges.

For example, Dyment said the commission has become the Northern Ontario representative for IBM business computers, it has opened an international business consulting service to better utilize the expertise of its staff and it has most recently created a video production house.

Dyment reported that Ontario Northland is attempting to purchase the North Bay to Toronto and Sudbury to Toronto bus routes operated by Gray Coach Bus Lines Inc. as well as some connecting routes, related coach equipment and a bus terminal in Barrie, Ont.

However, he said the purchase stalled when the provincial Highway Transport Board denied ONTC several of the bus charter and tour rights which accompanied the purchase.

Stating that the purchase would provide better links to southern Ontario and would enhance Ontario Northland's revenue-making ability, Dyment said the commission is still "fighting hard" to secure the denied licences.

When asked about the possibility of Ontario Northland's taking over the former Via Rail night train, Dyment admitted that the service is needed. However, he said negotiations with the federal government to provide assistance to reinstate the train were a "complete failure."

"We have sent cost estimates to the province and expect an answer in short order," he added.

Dyment reported that ONTC's Northlander train has a 90-per-cent occupancy rate and that ridership on its Polar Bear Express tour train has picked up because of "innovative marketing" by the marketing arm of Ontario Northland.

He predicted that the Polar Bear Express will enjoy an even better season this year due to the increased capacity provided by Ontario Northland's new station, hotel and restaurant in Cochrane.

Dyment reported that Ontario Northland is now working with the Moose Band First Nation to improve the "tourism experience" at Moose Island.

"It (the experience) needs to be brought to contemporary expectations," he admitted.

Dyment indicated that Ontario Northland is putting together a business plan for NorOntair to change over its fleet to 12-and 19-seat aircraft within the next four years.

Admitting that the Twin Otter aircraft presently used by NorOntair have several shortcomings, Dyment predicted that the replacement program will get under way in the next few years.

Dyment stated that Ontario Northland's trucking division, Star Transfer, is going through "agonizing times" and that the commission is making it a leaner operation.
COPYRIGHT 1991 Laurentian Business Publishing, Inc.
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Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Ontario Northland Transportation Commission's rail division affected by Toronto's decision to stop shipping its solid waste to Kirkland Lake
Publication:Northern Ontario Business
Date:Jun 1, 1991
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