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No mention of Northern passenger rail in transport minister's speech

GTA commuter rail, subway projects, highway four-laning on the province's transportation agenda
Ontario Northlander
Ontario Northland Transportation Commission photo

If the Ontario government has big plans to return passenger rail to northeastern Ontario, it appears to be a well-kept secret, for now.

Transportation Minister Jeff Yurek made no mention of any upcoming revival of the Cochrane-North Bay-Toronto rail link in his prepared speech at the Ontario Good Roads conference in Toronto, Feb. 25. His wide-ranging remarks were made available through a news release.

In outlining the government's transportation priorities, Yurek spoke about highway four-laning projects between Sudbury and Parry Sound, from Kenora to the Manitoba border, and upcoming twinning projects near Ottawa, Arnprior, and between Leamington and Windsor.

"We believe that planning for highways, roads and transit must be integrated, because, after all, effective public transit is absolutely critical for reducing gridlock."

On the rail side, commuter GO train service has been added to the Niagara Region and more frequency of service in the GTA and Kitchener area.

Any new rail service proposed by the Ford government will be subterreanean, with fast-tracked subway extensions planned for Toronto's downtown, Yonge Street and Scarborough.

"We also recognize that people have been waiting far too long to see these projects happen," Yurek said.

Yurek further mentioned the $364 million in gas tax funding to 107 municipalities for public transit and the $30 million being parcelled out over the next five years to 39 municipalities for local transportation services.

"That is why we announced support for local transit projects in communities across the province that will make life easier for people living in areas with few public transportation options."

His cabinet colleague, Finance Minister and Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, recently vowed his government stands behind a campaign promise to restore the former Northlander service during this term.

The service was cut by the McGuinty government in 2012.

Last summer, the Conservatives pledged $30 million in startup capital to restore passenger on the Ontario Northland Railway, with a $15-million annual operating subsidy. None of that money has been officially announced.

A group campaigning for the return of passenger rail in northeastern Ontario expects Fedeli to make good on that promise and has been preparing their own costings.

All Aboard Northern Ontario has the outline of a conceptual plan – to present to Queen's Park – that they claim will make the case for a return of passenger rail for a restoration of north-south service.

However, the lack of funding support from many communities – including the City of North Bay, the headquarters of Ontario Northland – has stalled the completion of that document.