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Queen's Park aims to restore northeast passenger rail by the mid-2020s

Province commits $75 million to restore passenger rail service axed in 2012, details and stops to be worked out.
Ford Corina
Premier Doug Ford and Ontario Northland CEO Corina Moore in Timmins on April 10 (Ontario Northland Railway photo)

It''s been ten years since Queen's Park made the controversial move to axe government-run passenger rail service in northeastern Ontario.

It's been four years since aspiring premier candidate Doug Ford promised to restore it.

After much waiting, the Ford announced in Timmins April 10 that his government is spending $75 million to return the much-beloved service back on Ontario Northland Railway track.

Ford; Caroline Mulroney, the provincial transportation minister, and outgoing Timmins Mayor - and aspiring Conservative MPP - George Pirie were on hand to make the announcement Sunday.

But it might be close to another election before service is officially restored. The province said the "potential in-service date" will be in the mid-2020s and it didn't specify in a news release how that $75 million will be spent. 

And unlike the previous service which ran from Toronto to Cochrane - the latter destination being the jumping-off point for the Polar Bear Express to Moosonee - the northern terminus for the new service will be Timmins. The government said a feasibility study will look into a new rail connection to Cochrane.

“The previous government chose to cancel this rail service, cutting people and economies in Northeastern Ontario off from the rest of the province,” said Ford in the release.

“At a time when our government is building up home-grown supply chains that connect resources, industries and workers in the north with the future of clean steel, electric vehicles and batteries, we’re restoring this vital transportation link. We’re getting it done and bringing passenger rail back to northeastern Ontario.”

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Passenger rail service will range between four to seven days a week and based on seasonal travel demand, the government said. Future studies will contemplate as many as 16 stops between Toronto and Timmins. 

The government projects, by 2041, annual ridership will range between 40,000 and 60,000 with a Timmins station and a spur line to Cochrane. The Cochrane connection would bring in an additional 5,300 passengers, according to the province's numbers, allowing service to reach 176,000 riders.

“Restoring Northeastern passenger rail service is critical to building the regional economy and making life easier for people living in the North,” said Mulroney in a statement. “Our government is delivering for Northern Ontario through historic investments in rail service, roads, highways and bridges so that people living in these communities have a transportation network that works for them.”

“The return of passenger rail to Timmins is imperative to our region’s growth and prosperity. As a regional hub and with Porcupine as the future terminus location, we will most certainly see positive impact on our tourism and industry sectors,” said Pirie. "This is imperative for access to medical appointments and travel. It will improve our quality of life and the well-being of the community by strengthening access to and from Timmins and the North.”