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Northern passenger rail return slowly coming into focus

'The target completion date for the next stage of planning and design work is 2022 which could allow a potential in-service date in the mid-2020s'
2021 05 25 Caroline Mulroney
Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney.

The Ontario government is eyeing the mid-2020s as a potential return to service date for passenger rail between Toronto, North Bay, and Cochrane or Timmins and has identified 2022 as a "target completion date," for the next stage of planning and design work.

“We made a commitment to return passenger rail to the North and we are one step closer to fulfilling that commitment,” said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade and MPP for Nipissing. “The planning we’re doing today will help to determine the details, and we are confident that the proposed service route would provide the best value and options to support economic opportunities, the tourism industry and access to healthcare, education and other critical services.”

Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation, stated the Ontario government is "improving transportation in the North by taking the next step toward bringing passenger rail service to people in the northeast with the release of the Initial Business Case."

Mulroney added, "the province is building a better transportation network for Northern Ontario, making it easier and more convenient for people to get where they need to go."

The province, Ontario Northland and Metrolinx are moving forward with further planning for a 13-stop route that would provide service from Toronto to Timmins or Cochrane. As part of the 2021 Ontario Budget, the government committed $5 million to support this planning and design work.

“Today we reached a very important milestone in our plan to reinstate passenger rail,” said Corina Moore, President and CEO of Ontario Northland. “An enhanced transportation network that integrates rail and bus services provides an exciting opportunity for the region to grow and improve. We are proud to be moving this plan forward.”

Service would be offered based on seasonal travel demands and would range from four to seven days a week. The service would allow passengers coming from the North to travel overnight to maximize their day in the Toronto area and reduce the need for overnight accommodations in Toronto. 

The route for further planning (Option 6 in the Initial Business Case) has 13 stops including Toronto (Union Station), Langstaff, Gormley, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, North Bay, Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Matheson and Timmins or Cochrane. A seamlessly integrated bus service will connect with passenger rail to provide service to communities between rail stops.

The Northlander passenger service stopped service in 2012 (communities served by the Northlander had access to bus service as well). Ontario Northland currently operates four buses daily between Toronto and North Bay, and one or two buses daily from North Bay to Timmins and Cochrane.

From October 23–November 20, 2020, more than 7,200 people, including 8.3 per cent of respondents that self-identified as Indigenous, shared their feedback about transportation opportunities along the rail corridor between Toronto, North Bay, Timmins or Cochrane.

“We have listened to people, businesses and Indigenous communities across Northern Ontario who have long awaited the return of train service on the northeast corridor,” said Mulroney. “This important milestone in the planning process brings us another step closer to building a better transportation network in the North.”

Lloyd Leonard writes to BayToday, "Read the report in detail...certain items are misleading and others are lacking ...ex: it states that there are 4 buses daily from North Bay to Toronto...this includes the routes via Sudbury, which given the length of the journey, no sane person would do. Also, there is no discussion of the equipment that would be used, although there is cost allocation for rolling stock. Consideration is being given to having Timmins as the northern terminus. Rebuilding infrastructure in the Timmins area would have to be done to facilitate this.... Currently, there are no maintenance facilities or turning facilities in the Timmins area that I am aware of. The next Ontario General Election is next year (2022). The earliest this will be implemented would be 2024. Assuming the governing party is not replaced. This is an election document. Sadly don't get your hopes up."

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