As part of its promise to return passenger rail to the North, the Ford government has included $5 million in its recently released provincial budget for planning and design work, with a business case due to be made public over the next few months.
"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," Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli said in a statement.
Fedeli, the province's minister of economic development, job creation and trade, said the $5 million in funding at this stage matches precisely what was sought by the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (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 said.
"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."
ONTC's president and CEO, Corina Moore, addressed the Crown organization's plans during a March 25 meeting of North Bay city council's community services committee.
"We have huge plans for passenger rail," Moore said. "There will be tourism initiatives and we intend to fill that station."
Fedeli said the MTO is working with Metrolinx and the ONTC 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 added.
"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."
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."
Lucille Frith and Howie Wilcox, co-chairs of the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN), issued a news release weighing 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," the statement reads.
"It is critical for all parties to continue engaging with key stakeholders including municipalities, First Nations, colleges and uas well as the general public."