The Province of Ontario, the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (Ontario Northland) and Metrolinx are advancing plans to restore Northlander passenger rail service, with the release of an initial business case.
The Northlander service – which ran between Cochrane, North Bay and Toronto, in conjunction with the bus service – was discontinued in 2012. Ontario Northland currently operates four buses per day between Toronto and North Bay and one or two buses per day from North Bay to Timmins and Cochrane.
As part of the 2021 Ontario Budget, the government has committed C $ 5 million to support planning and design work for a new 13-stop route. This route, option 6 in the initial business case (download below), would serve Toronto (Union Station), Langstaff, Gormley, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, North Bay, Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Matheson and Timmins or Cochrane. Buses would connect communities between railway stops.
Rail service would be offered “based on seasonal travel demands and would run four to seven days a week,” according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. “The target completion date for the next stage of planning and design work is 2022, which could allow for a potential commissioning date in the mid-2020s.”
The 460 mile northeast rail corridor between Toronto and Timmins or Cochrane consists of five main rail subdivisions owned by Metrolinx, Ontario Northland and CN. It is mainly used for freight, with passenger rail services provided by GO Transit, which operates the Richmond Hill commuter train, and VIA Rail Canada, which operates between Toronto and Washago as part of its trans-Canada rail service.
“We have listened to the people, businesses and Indigenous communities of Northern Ontario who have long awaited the return of rail service to the Northeast Corridor,” said Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney. “This important step in the planning process brings us another step towards building a better transportation system in the North.
“We are committed to making rail passenger transportation in the North and we are on the verge of delivering on that commitment,” said Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade and MLA for Nipissing . “The planning we are doing today will help determine the details, and we are confident that the proposed service route would provide the best value and options to support economic opportunities, the tourism industry and access to health care, education and other essential services. . “
“An improved transportation network that integrates rail and bus services provides the region with a great opportunity to grow and improve,” said Corina Moore, President and CEO of Ontario Northland, who Age of the railway recognized in November 2017 as part of its first annual feature film Women in Rail and the first woman to appear on the cover of the publication since its inception in 1856. (Stephen Hayne, director of marketing and awards at Ontario Northland, was the ‘one of Age of the railway‘s 2021 ’20 Under 40’.) “We are proud to move this plan forward.”
Business cases are required by the government for all projects with capital costs exceeding $ 50 million. As projects evolve in terms of scope and construction, business cases are completed to define the rationale and delivery requirements. The initial business case is the first of four cases to complete, and it selects a preferred option for further design and analysis.