Sudbury

Return of Northlander train service could include new connection to Cochrane, Ont.

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has announced it has earmarked $75 million to restore passenger rail service to northeastern Ontario. 

Stop will link Polar Bear Express passengers from Moosonee, First Nations communities on James Bay coast

'For too long hardworking people and families in northern Ontario haven't been treated properly,' says Premier Doug Ford. (Aya Dufour/Radio Canada)

Ontario's Progressive Conservative government has announced it has earmarked $75 million to restore passenger rail service to northeastern Ontario. 

The Northlander train service, which operated from Toronto to Cochrane and northeast of Timmins, was cancelled by the Liberal government in 2012. The decision was met with criticism by local politicians including Timmins-James Bay MPP Gilles Bisson and Timiskaming-Cochrane MPP John Vanthof.

Riders also advocated the service was essential to accessing urban centres for things like shopping and medical appointments. 

The money, announced on Sunday afternoon, will be split over the next three years, said Corina Moore, president and CEO of Ontario Northland. She said it will look after passenger coaches, infrastructure and stations.

For Cochrane, I believe that's some very good news.— Denis Clement, mayor of Cochrane, Ont.

"For too long hardworking people and families in northern Ontario haven't been treated properly," Ford said, "They haven't had the same opportunities as the rest of the province."

"It's been a full decade, ten long years, since the previous government chose to close down the Northlander passenger line. In doing so they cut Timmins and northeastern Ontario from the rest of the province," he said. 

Last fall, the government announced its decision to make Timmins, Ont., the route's terminus station. The move didn't sit well with some constituents and municipal leadership. 

Daniel Belisle, a municipal councillor in Cochrane, Ont., said at the time that it only made sense that the train's terminus station be located in Cochrane, Ont. as the repair facilities for the train are located in municipality. 

When the Northlander made its final stop in September 2012, it marked the end of more than 100 years of passenger rail history on the northeastern Ontario route. (Submitted by Ontario Northland)

Update to initial plan

Now, Ontario Northland said it has updated its initial plan in partnership with the Ontario government and Metrolinx.

"This plan will bring a rail connection from Toronto to Timmins, providing an essential link for the people living in the north," said Corina Moore, president and CEO of Ontario Northland. 

"There will also be a connected train service from Cochrane to Timmins," she said, "Providing a direct link from the Polar Bear Express passengers travelling from Moosonee and the First Nations communities on the James Bay coast." 

The government said it estimates the possible route could reach an additional 5,300 riders and would offer a connection to the Polar Bear Express service to Moosonee. 

Moore added that considering the estimated 137 per cent increase in the region's population aged 80 and up over the next 25 years, the reinstated service will provide a vital link to healthcare and other services.

It means getting where you need to go, whether it's for business or economic development, to keep people connected, to keep hospital connections.— Lucille Frith, co-chair of the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network

'We've been lobbying'

"For Cochrane, I believe that's some very good news," said Denis Clement, mayor of Cochrane, Ont.

"We've been lobbying the government, ever since the announcement that the passenger rail service would come out of Timmins," he said, "Cochrane already has a terminal, we already have the tracks."

"The folks from Moosonee come right from Moosonee to Cochrane and it would certainly make their lives much simpler," Clement said. 

Lucille Frith is the co-chair of the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network, a local advocacy group. She said that the announcement is welcome news, especially considering the promise to reinstate the service was initially made by Ford on the campaign trail in 2018. 

'The people of northern Ontario need the same connections with the rest of Canada, it's not just southern Ontario,' says Lucille Frith, co-chair of the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network, a local advocacy group. (Submitted by Lucille Frith)

"It means getting where you need to go, whether it's for business or economic development, to keep people connected, to keep hospital connections," she said, "The reality is the railroad operates 365 days of the year, where the highways don't." 

Frith said while it does cost more to support transit in remote locations like northeastern Ontario, she said that the demand is strong. She said cancelling the service in 2012 was a mistake that is now being corrected.

"The people of northern Ontario need the same connections with the rest of Canada, it's not just southern Ontario," Frith said.

"Economic growth will happen now because people will move north to do their business work because they can keep their connection with the southern Ontario family, the students will go to northern universities now because they can hop on a train instead of a 24-hour bus connection route to get back home for the weekend," she said.

The province said it continues to eye an in-service date of 2025. They said the the service will be offered on seasonal travel demands and will range from four and seven days a week between northern Ontario and Toronto. 


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