From Sudbury to Thunder Bay and Winnipeg: The Return of Passenger Rail Service

More than two decades ago, with a long history of train travel in Canada, passenger trains traveled the rail lines from Sudbury, westward through the communities along the north and northwest shores of Lake Superior, headed south to Thunder Bay, then turned west again to make their way to Winnipeg, Manitoba. This route linked the people and the provinces of Canada to the east with those in the west. Then, without public consultation, the passenger rail service from Sudbury to Winnipeg was cancelled. In the intervening decade, many have regretted this loss.

Today, train travel has become more desirable, not only for its economy of cost and the greatly reduced impact on the environment, but for its safety, especially if there is inclement weather or an accident and the highway is closed. Tourists from around the world travel to Canada to ride the rails, to see this vast country from coast to coast.  Whether it is a family from Hamilton, Ontario traveling to Thunder Bay to visit family, or a group of tourists from Japan who want to see this vast country, many support the objective of reinstating passenger train travel along this route.

This Proposal was originally prepared by a dedicated group of citizens including myself, who believed the time had come to reinstate passenger trains service along the Sudbury, Ontario to Winnipeg, Manitoba route. The Proposal set out the facts and figures, along with a wealth of information, data and other considerations to support the concept that a Feasibility Study be carried out to determine the need for and benefits of passenger train service from Sudbury to Thunder Bay, Ontario to Winnipeg Manitoba.

Unfortunately, when it was first proposed the political will was not there to move it forward, but the political conditions are now right for a made-in-the-north solution through a community-based ownership of a scalable operation based on our regional needs. The other political option to force Via Rail to take the southern route would create winners and losers and the business model and lack of economies of scale with our low population density would make it very difficult to accomplish.

Difficulties of Current Modes of Travel to Thunder Bay and Winnipeg – A Needs Analysis

For those who wish to travel this route, at present, there are major obstacles which inhibit travel. Some of these are listed below.

Travel by Road Passenger Vehicles:

  • The highway along the route from Sudbury Ontario to Winnipeg MB and points in between is for the most part, two lanes.
  • In the winter it is extremely cold along the route, e.g. 50 degrees below F at White River is common.  The ice, snow and cold present dangers to many travelers: the elderly, those with young children, those not used to driving in such extreme conditions and those with older vehicles.
  • Many sections of the 1550 km trip from Sudbury to the Winnipeg area have long, deserted stretches where cell phones do not pick up a signal; where accommodations are few and far between, and where having a flat tire can be a catastrophe.
  • Wildlife is common. Colliding with a moose on the highway could be fatal. People with health problems are apprehensive about traveling in these conditions.
  • Many sections of the highway have steep inclines, long stretches that at night can be so dark as to be fearfully dangerous.
  • A mechanical breakdown of a vehicle can cause delays of several hours and even days.

Travel by Air:

  • The cost of air travel is prohibitive for a large proportion of the population.
  • Families with several children would find the cost of air fare beyond their reach.

Travel by Bus:

  • This mode is a long, tiring ride. To travel by bus from Sudbury to Winnipeg, or more likely from Ottawa, Kingston, London, Toronto or other cities makes for a long, exhausting trip.

Advantages of Train Travel:

  • This mode of travel offers one with a great deal of comfort, where the passenger can walk around, stretch, and relax as desired.
  • Train travel is more affordable by those in the lower economic range, and for those with families who want to travel.
  • Train travel eliminates most of the hazards of traveling in the family car along this route.
  • Those who live in the smaller towns and communities along the route would have the means to travel in a manner that does not now exist.
  • For many, train travel is romantic, exciting and becomes part of their vacation. People have the opportunity to see their Province, and the environment in which we live. It adds understanding of both Ontario and of Canada.
  • Many travelers remain apprehensive of air travel and long road trips, thus rail travel offers them the chance to travel in a manner that is comfortable to them.
  • College and University students that live out of town could have an affordable mode of transport to visit their family.


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