In the wake of the announcement from Greyhound that it has suspended service in Canada, Ontario announced it is restarting Ontario Northland passenger rail service in the northeast.
The announcement is a more formal announcement based on what was included in the Ontario budget released in March, which included $5 million for planning and design work to bring passenger rail back in service.
Today’s announcement of the initial business case for passenger rail was made by Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney.
“We know Northeastern Ontario has unique transportation needs,” she said, mentioning in particular the need to access medical services in particular in southern Ontario. Northerners “need a modern, connected transportation network.”
The province is working with Ontario Northland and Metrolinx on the plan, which will include a 13-stop route from Toronto to Timmins or Cochrane.
Service would be offered based on seasonal travel demands, the province said, and would range from four to seven days a week depending on seasonal demand.
“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, if preferred,” the provincial release states.
Ontario said planning and design work is expected to be completed in 2022, with a goal of the mid 2020s for service to begin.
During the press conference, Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli, the MPP for Nipissing, the Tory government made a commitment to passenger rail service, which was cancelled by the then ruling Liberals in 2012.
“This will ensure when transportation rail returns to the North it will be done right,” Fedeli said.
For communities in cottage country in the Muskokas having more options to bring in tourists, and providing better transportation options to residents, is welcome news, said Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller during the press conference.
“This is a 21st century vision for rail service,” Miller said.
Corina Moore, the CEO of the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission, echoed Miller’s statement that this announcement mean a return to a modern transportation service for the Northeast.
“After 120 years of providing service, we understand the travel needs of people in Northeastern Ontario,” Moore said. “I envision passengers enjoying a safe travel experience with all the modern amenities.”
As to why it will take until the mid 2020s for service to resume, even though the tracks are still in use by CN, Mulroney said the time is needed to conduct a track and infrastructure audit, as well as to consult with communities to understand the transportation needs that exist.
Currently, Ontario Northland operates four buses daily between Toronto and North Bay, and one or two buses daily from North Bay to Timmins and Cochrane.
The 13-stop route proposed for passenger rail for include Toronto (Union Station), Langstaff, Gormley, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, North Bay, Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Matheson and Timmins or Cochrane. An integrated bus service will connect with passenger rail to provide service to communities between rail stops.