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Construction on Northlander rail infrastructure will begin this summer

Province has awarded contracts for shelter builds, track maintenance
Northlander locomotive (2012)
A Northlander locomotive

Construction will begin this summer on infrastructure that will enable the Northlander passenger rail service to return to full operation.

On May 31, the province announced the awarding of three construction contracts, which will see the building of new station shelters, equipped with seating, lighting and heating, over the next two years.

Shelters will be built in Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Temiskaming Shores, Temagami, South River, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst and Washago.

"People and businesses in Northern and central Ontario deserve the same access to safe and reliable transportation as the rest of the province,” said Vijay Thanigasalam, associate minister of transportation, in a May 31 news release.

“Reinstating the Northlander will not only support our northern industries and resource sectors, but it will also pave the way for a more integrated transportation network that connects communities from the North to the south.”

The successful bidders include Enseicom Inc., which has been awarded the contract to design and manufacture nine new station shelters; Remcan Ltd., which has been awarded the contract for track improvements to enhance rail safety, decrease maintenance and reduce derailment risks; and X-Rail, which has been awarded the contract to complete warning system upgrades along the Northlander corridor north of North Bay.

The province did not provide the monetary value of the contracts.

According to the province, construction of the station platforms, parking areas and pathways will begin this summer, along with track improvements to enhance rail safety, reduce derailment risks and decrease train maintenance.

“Once reinstated, the Northlander passenger rail service will operate four to seven days a week, based on seasonal travel demands,” the province said in the release.

“This investment marks further progress on the reinstatement of the Northlander train service,” said Chad Evans, CEO of Ontario Northland, in the release.

“The shelters will be safe, comfortable and accessible, providing a consistent, modern passenger experience for customers boarding and exiting the train all along the route. We are excited to see this work progress during this construction season and next.”

Passenger rail service was cancelled in 2012, following the province's divestment of Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (ONTC) that same year.

"Stagnant ridership, along with the ONTC's unsustainable financial path, are key factors in (the) announcement," said Rick Bartolucci of the decision, who was at the time minister of northern development and mines.

The passenger rail service made its final run that October.

In 2018, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made a campaign promise to restore passenger rail service to the province.

In 2022, the government announced $75 million as part of that plan, and later pledged $139.5 million for the purchase three trainsets for the service.

Last year, the trainsets were weather tested to ensure their longevity in Northern Ontario winters. The new trains will have wider caps, wider seats, fully accessible washrooms, power outlets, Wi-Fi and other amenities. 

In its most recently updated business case, the province indicates it's looking at three routes for the service: 

  • Train service from Toronto to Timmins, with an express bus route between Matheson and Cochrane, and a bus connection between Timmins and Cochrane.
  • Train service from Toronto to Timmins, with an additional rail connection between Timmins and Cochrane, and an express bus between Matheson and Cochrane.
  • Train service to Cochrane (where the Polar Bear Express train from Moosonee ends), an express bus between Matheson and Timmins, and a bus connection between Timmins and Cochrane.