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Budget includes $5 million for 'potential future passenger rail service'

'We have huge plans for passenger rail,' in North Bay, said Ontario Northland President and CEO Corina Moore. 'There will be tourism initiatives and we intend to fill that station.'
20201010 Ontario-Northland passenger train-Wayne-Shaw 1
Ontario Northland passenger train. Courtesy Wayne Shaw, Northeastern Ontario Rail Network.

As part of its promise to return passenger rail to the north, the Ford government has included $5 million in its recently released budget for planning and design work, with a business case due to be made public over the next few months.

See related story: Passenger train timeline up around the bend?

See also: MTO survey says 'continue to explore options to reintroduce passenger rail service'

And: Council to province: 'Give us a date' for passenger train return

Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli says in a statement, "As we continue working together to achieve an economic rebound that is felt across the province, it has never been more important to promote economic development and keep people and goods moving throughout our North."

Fedeli says the $5 million in funding at this stage matches precisely what was sought by the ONTC to proceed.

Northern Ontario has unique transportation needs, and people and businesses throughout the North rely on a safe, convenient transportation network to get where they need to go and access critical services," Fedeli observes. "Our government is investing $5 million to support the development of passenger rail service in the Northeast and delivering on our commitment to improving transportation throughout Northern Ontario."

"We have huge plans for passenger rail," in North Bay, said Ontario Northland President and CEO Corina Moore in reference to the ONTC's local coach and rail station during a presentation to North Bay City Council's community services committee, Thursday. "There will be tourism initiatives and we intend to fill that station."

Fedeli says the MTO is working with Metrolinx and the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission to finalize an initial business case for passenger rail service in Northeastern Ontario. 

"Our government is also working with ONTC to accelerate work on a track audit on a section north of North Bay that will examine safety and infrastructure needs for a potential future train service," Fedeli adds. "The track audit is an essential step to identify needs for safety and infrastructure improvements to support a potential passenger rail service expansion in the future."

See related opinion pieces: Passenger rail policies: procrastination over progress

Fedeli has dug himself into a pit with endless promises on rail passenger service

And: The promise of modern passenger train service for northern Ontario should be kept by those who made it

An excerpt from the 2021 Ontario budget on the "potential future passenger rail service" from Toronto to Cochrane:

"Ontario is committed to reviewing initiatives to meet transportation needs in the North to optimize bus services and to develop options for passenger rail services across Northern Ontario. In keeping with the draft Transportation Plan for Northern Ontario, the government is accelerating work to examine safety and infrastructure needs for potential future passenger rail service between Toronto, North Bay, Timmins and Cochrane. Ontario is investing $5 million to support planning and design work. An initial business case is being finalized and is expected to be released in spring 2021."

See related: Rail advocacy group 'optimistic' province is moving forward with northern passenger train

Meanwhile, in a media release, Lucille Frith and Howie Wilcox, co-chairs of the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) weigh in on the passenger rail situation:

"Our expectation is the next steps in the ONTC/Metrolinx Business Plan will be to confirm costs and service plans as well as to work with CN on a track audit of the CN line south of North Bay to Toronto and ensure the performance expectations will be met. It is critical for all parties to continue engaging with key stakeholders including municipalities, First Nations, Colleges and Universities as well as the general public."