Full steam ahead: Group wants to re-establish passenger rail service in northern Ontario

A northern Ontario group plans to advocate for improved public transportation during the upcoming provincial election. The NorthEastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) wants passenger rail to return to the region, but there is no mandate from the provincial government.

NorthEastern Ontario Rail Network held summit in Sault Ste. Marie to hear from other supporters

According to summit participants, the train is a safe and economical way to get around Northern Ontario (Radio-Canada)
It's been almost five years since the Northlander train horns were silenced ... but a northern Ontario group has never stopped fighting to bring passenger train service back to the region. And today it's hosting a summit in Sault Ste. Marie that aims to rally more voices for the cause. 6:25

A northern Ontario group plans to advocate for improved public transportation during the upcoming provincial election.

The NorthEastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) wants passenger rail to return to the region, but there is no mandate from the provincial government to further develop the passenger rail-line for Ontario Northland, a Crown agency of the government.

A summit was held in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., on Thursday focusing on the social, environmental and economic benefits passenger rail could bring to the region.

Almost two dozen speakers presented to more than 100 attendees.

It was the first event of its kind, but there will be more leading up to the provincial election, Lucille Frith NEORN co-chair said.

"We are going to be going on the road with this as soon as the writ is dropped. We will be taking a mini version of this to town hall meetings throughout northeastern Ontario," she said.

"This is the test run."

Tracks already there

Frith says it wouldn't be difficult to get a transportation system up and running since infrastructure already exists in northeastern Ontario: between Toronto and Moosonee, as well as between Sault Ste. Marie and Hearst.

All that would need to be done to re-establish rail service is to add the trains.

"Somebody needs to look at [northern passenger rail] and crunch the numbers and look at the feasibility and say 'Yes that tracks ready to go, that tracks ready to go, that one needs some maintenance and repair.'"

"Create a plan and make it happen."

Disparity with tax dollars

Firth says there is an imbalance of provincial tax dollars directed to public transportation, since southern Ontario has an integrated transportation with high-speed trains, subways and buses.

"There's a little disparity there."

"I feel that the people of Ontario deserve some equal treatment," she said.

"We're not asking for high speed rail like they are in the south. We would just like to have rail once a day, once every other day, depending on where the communitie are."

"We need our communities connected even more so than in the south," Frith added.

Frith says including passenger trains along with the existing Ontario Northland buses, would create an integrated transportation system across the region.

Busing would still remain an important part she said, because trains would only run once a day, whereas buses could run several times a day.

In preparing for their advocacy work during the election campaign, NEORN sent three questions to 15 politicians and provincial candidates in northeastern Ontario seeking their individual responses about passenger rail and public transportation issues.

The group has only received four responses.

With files from Wendy Bird

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