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Passenger rail supporters expect new government to make good on campaign promise

All Aboard Northern Ontario to unveil conceptual plan this summer to restore Cochrane-Toronto service
Northlander locomotive
The Northlander train service on its final run in 2012. (File photo)

Citizens campaigning for the return of passenger rail in northeastern and southwestern Ontario are counting on Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli to deliver the goods.

The founder of All Aboard Northern Ontario remains “cautiously optimistic” of the new government’s pledge to restore the Northlander “within its term.”

North Bay’s Eric Boutilier said a conceptual plan is being finalized that will make the case and outline the costs of restoring north-south passenger rail service between Cochrane and Toronto.

The service was cancelled in 2012 as part of the provincial government’s partial and aborted divestment of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission.

“Our organization is pleased that Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli has not only endorsed the return of passenger rail to the region, but has also taken initial measures to ensuring a long term, sustainable transportation solution for residents of Northeastern Ontario,” Boutilier said in an email.

The project’s advisor, Greg Gormick, an independent rail consultant, is preparing the conceptual plan, which should be completed over the next few weeks.

Boutilier will be appearing before North Bay city council on June 19 to present an outline of the upcoming report.

The group is planning town meetings along the rail corridor this summer. Dates and locations still to be determined.

“However, the restoration of the Northlander must be done right, the first time around,” added Boutilier.

“Seniors, students, and medical patients affected by the Northlander's cancellation have grown fatigued of the lip service and excuses provided by the previous government. They will demand tangible results from the Progressive Conservatives. All Aboard Northern Ontario will continue to monitor the Ford government's progress on this initiative, and if necessary, expect some accountability.”

Boutilier’s remarks coincide with those of a citizens’ rail committee in southwestern Ontario lobbying for better service from VIA.

In a June 11 news release, Chris West, founder of All Aboard St. Marys, said there’s only a handful of MPPs in the new government who’ve shown concern about the deterioration of passenger rail and intercity bus service.

“I’m thinking particularly of Vic Fedeli, who has always graciously and sincerely supported efforts to restore the rail passenger service to his hometown of North Bay and all the communities along the route of the Northlander, which the former Liberal government arbitrarily cancelled in 2012.”

Gormick, who's advising both groups, stated in the release that while he holds admiration for Fedeli, he is wary of the others, namely Premier-Elect Doug Ford, and former Harper cabinet minister John Baird, a Canadian Pacific Railway director, who’s on Ford’s transition team.

“Our only glimmer of hope at the moment remains Vic Fedeli. He is a thoughtful and intelligent man who has tirelessly supported the efforts of our colleague, Eric Boutilier, the founder of All Aboard Northern Ontario, in his campaign to revive the Ontario Northland passenger service between Toronto, North Bay and Cochrane. Let’s hope he can influence and educate others within his party’s ranks.”