Onatrio’s Progressive Conservative government announced it had earmarked $75 million to restore passenger rail service in northeastern Ontario.
The Northlander train service, which linked Toronto to Cochrane and northeast Timmins, was canceled by the Liberal government in 2012. The decision was criticized by local politicians, including Gilles Bisson, MP for Timmins-James Bay, and John Vanthof, MP for Timiskaming-Cochrane.
Runners also advocated that the service was essential for accessing urban centers for things like shopping and medical appointments.
“The previous government chose to cancel this rail service, cutting off the people and economies of Northeastern Ontario from the rest of the province,” Premier Doug Ford said in a news release.
For Cochrane, I think this is very good news.— Denis Clement, Mayor of Cochrane, Ont.
“At a time when our government is building local supply chains that connect northern resources, industries and workers to the future of clean steel, electric vehicles and batteries, we are restoring that vital transportation,” he said.
Last fall, the government announced its decision to make Timmins, Ontario the terminus of the route. This decision did not sit well with some voters and municipal leaders.
Daniel Belisle, a city councilor from Cochrane, Ontario, said at the time that it made sense for the train’s terminus station to be located in Cochrane, Ontario. because the train repair facilities are located in the municipality.
Now the government said it had updated its original plan and aimed to conduct future feasibility work for a possible route that would include a new rail connection to Cochrane, Ontario.
The government said it estimated the possible route could reach an additional 5,300 passengers and would provide a connection to the Polar Bear Express service to Moosonee.
“For Cochrane, I think this is very good news,” said Denis Clement, Mayor of Cochrane, Ontario.
“We’ve lobbied the government since the announcement that passenger rail would be coming out of Timmins,” he said, “Cochrane already has a terminal, we already have the tracks.”
“Moosonee people come straight from Moosonee to Cochrane and it would definitely make life easier for them,” Clement said.
It means going where you need to go, whether it’s for business or economic development, to keep people connected, to maintain connections with hospitals.— Lucille Frith, Co-Chair, Northeastern Ontario Rail Network
Lucille Frith is co-chair of the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network, a grassroots advocacy group. She said the announcement was good news, especially since the promise to restore service was originally made by Ford during the 2018 election campaign.
“It means going where you need to go, whether it’s for business or economic development, to keep people connected, to maintain hospital connections,” she said. “The reality is that the railroad operates 365 days a year, where the highways don’t.”
Frith said while it costs more to support public transit in remote places like northeastern Ontario, she said demand is high. She said the cancellation of the service in 2012 was a mistake that is being corrected.
“People in northern Ontario need the same connections to the rest of Canada, it’s not just southern Ontario,” Frith said.
“Economic growth is going to happen now because people are going to move north to do their business jobs because they can keep their connection to family in southern Ontario, students will go to universities in north now because they can hop on a train instead of a 24-hour bus. connecting route home for the weekend,” she said.
The province said it continues to look at an in-service date of the mid-2020s. They said the service will be offered on seasonal travel requests and will run four to seven days a week between northern Ontario and Toronto.