Northlander train makes historic final ride

The final Northlander train departed Cochrane Friday morning — and many people took the opportunity for one last ride.

Route that spans between Toronto and Cochrane was a 'lifeline' for medical appointments

The Ontario Northlander train provided rail service to communities from Toronto to Cochrane. Tourists often took the train in the fall to enjoy the brilliant colour changes in the trees. (Ontario Northland)

The final Northlander train departed Cochrane Friday morning — and many people are taking the opportunity for one last ride.

More than a century of rail history is not fading away without acknowledgement as the passenger service was cancelled with the provincial government’s decision to get out of the rail business. The last round trip train travelled from Toronto to Cochrane Thursday and was expected to return Friday morning.

Retired ONR worker Lorne Fleece waits to board in North Bay with some memorabilia of his own — an Ontario Northland string-tie. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

Former Ontario Northland Rail workers like Lorne Fleece — who started with the railway in 1949 — hopped on board to reminisce.

"I would say I have over 20,000 miles in train travel," he said.

While many are taking the last ride for nostalgic reasons, the end of the train marks the start of uncertainty for current ONR workers.

Gerry McCausland, a conductor on the Northlander, has enough seniority to stay on with the company at this point — but might have to uproot his family.

"I have no idea. I live in North Bay right now and when all the bumping is done I could be living in Hearst or Cochrane," he said.

"So I really have no idea where I am going."

McCausland said the cars from the Northlander will make one final journey to Cochrane where they will replace the aging fleet on the train to Moosonee.

Generations of the Knight family have worked on the ONR. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

'Shortsighted' decision

Other people are making use of the last Northlander rides to get to medical appointments — including Sharon Walker, who boarded Thursday in North Bay.

"You can't have subsidizing at $400 a passenger, I understand that perfectly," she said.

"But this is our lifeline up here for a lot of people who have medical issues to go down to Toronto."

Two MPPs also boarded the final northbound train from Toronto to Cochrane — not for medical reasons, but to protest the train's cancellation. Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof was joined at Union Station by Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson.

"I’m still stunned at the short sightedness of this decision," said Vanthof.

Passengers in North Bay wait to board the final run of the Northlander Train on Sept. 27. (Megan Thomas/CBC)

"The Liberal government is shuttering the ONTC to save a few dollars, while they waste millions of dollars buying seats in the GTA. Once again, northerners are being left out in the cold. The fact that they won’t even maintain service through the Thanksgiving weekend just speaks to their total indifference to the North."

When the brakes are applied for the final time on the Northlander, it will mark the end of more than 100 years of passenger rail history on the route.

The province has committed to keeping the Polar Bear Express running, however, and says it plans to enhance bus service.