On April 10, the Ontario government announced it would invest $59.51 million (C$75 million) to restore Northlander passenger rail service between Toronto and Timmins.
This decision follows the province’s release of an updated initial business case (UIBC) for the service, which was presented by Metrolinx and the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission (Ontario Northland). (Download UIBC below.)
Ontario Northland’s Northlander passenger train – which ran between Cochrane, North Bay and Toronto – was discontinued in 2012. Ontario Northland currently operates four buses a day between Toronto and North Bay, and one to two buses a day from North Bay in Timmins and Cochrane.
UIBC outlines rail service options from Toronto to Timmins, according to the province, and “future feasibility work on a preferred route will include a new rail connection to Cochrane,” where service would connect to the existing Polar Bear Express at Moosonee . (See map below.)
Sixteen stations could be included: Toronto (Union Station), Langstaff, Gormley, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, South River, North Bay, Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Kirkland Lake (Swastika), Matheson, Timmins and Cochrane.
With a potential go-live date in the mid-2020s, the service would be based on seasonal travel demands; range from four to seven days a week; and allow passengers coming from the North to travel overnight to reduce the need for overnight accommodations, if they prefer, according to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
By 2041, annual ridership is estimated to be between about 40,000 and 60,000 with a terminal station in Timmins and a connection in Cochrane.
The rail corridor between Toronto and Timmins or Cochrane, also known as the Northeast Rail Corridor, is approximately 460 miles long and includes five major rail subdivisions owned by Metrolinx, Ontario Northland and CN. It is primarily used for freight, with limited passenger rail services provided by Metrolinx GO Transitwhich operates the Richmond Hill commuter rail, and VIA Rail Canadawhich operates between Toronto and Washago as part of The Canadian.
The initial business case for the return of Northlander service was released last year. According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, “passenger rail service has the potential to provide a safe, reliable and convenient travel option that could improve access to health care, education and other services. important”. UIBC has further refined advanced route analysis and planning. The next step is the Preliminary Design Business Case, which will “explore more technical design and planning work of the preferred route.”
“Restoring passenger rail service in the Northeast is essential to building the regional economy and making life easier for people who live in the North,” said Caroline Mulroney, Minister of Transportation. “Our government is delivering on Northern Ontario with historic investments in rail services, roads, highways and bridges to ensure people in these communities have a transportation system that works for them.
“With the launch of UIBC, we have taken a very important step in our plan to restore passenger rail travel in Northeastern Ontario,” said Ontario’s President and CEO. Northland, Corina Moore, who was recognized by The age of the railway in 2017 as the inaugural winner of the Women in Rail program as well as the first woman to appear on the cover of the publication since its inception in 1856. This service will fundamentally change the way people travel between Northern Ontario and Toronto.