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Northlander hits the tracks for a pre-dawn test run to T.O.

Ontario Northland says its guests 'are enjoying the ride and discussing how this potential service could benefit their communities.'
2021 11 22 Ontario Northland Passenger Rail Test (Supplied) (2)
The passenger train left North Bay for Union Station before sunrise on Nov. 22.

The Northlander was back on the tracks and headed south with Ontario Northland President and CEO Corina Moore — and some guests with vested interests in the return of passenger rail — all aboard.

Ontario Northland operated a passenger train between North Bay and Toronto on Monday, "for testing purposes. We are validating transit times and evaluating track conditions as part of our ongoing work on the Northeastern Passenger Rail Service business case."

“Today’s test train is a promising sign for Northern Ontario," observes Moore. "Once passenger rail service is back, it will connect people to the region, unlock economic opportunities, and much more."

Joining Moore for the trip to Union Station is Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, Parry Sound–Muskoka MPP Norm Miller, ONTC Chair Alan Spacek, and seven mayors from Northeastern Ontario.

With the arrival of winter weather and the often treacherous driving conditions that accompany it, Ontario Northland says its guests "are enjoying the ride and discussing how this potential service could benefit their communities." 

In May, Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney indicated passenger rail service could be restored in the mid-2020s and further planning and design work would be completed in 2022. That planning includes the 78-page Initial Business Case for the project, billed as "a decision-making tool employed to assess the strategic and economic rationale for an investment, and the financial, deliverability and operational considerations required to implement it."

"As the transportation experts of our region, we recognize the importance of a modern and reliable passenger rail service that connects rural Ontario to Toronto," stated Moore then, promising the company's long history of providing transportation to, from, and within the north will "ensure the revitalized service is designed to meet both the personal and business needs of our passengers."

The Northlander passenger rail service was discontinued in 2012 by the Liberal government of the day as it moved to divest parts of the ONTC. In 2018, Ontario PC candidates — including Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli and now-Premier Doug Ford — made a campaign promise to restore passenger rail service.

According to Moore, the provincial government "continues to show tremendous support for Ontario Northland and ​with Metrolinx, we are working to finalize an updated business case for the Northeastern Passenger Rail Service. Municipal governments have also shown their support for this potential service and we are proud to have many of them join us on today’s test train.”

Fedeli has consistently remarked, "Dependable and efficient passenger rail has been long-awaited in the north. We made a commitment to return passenger rail to the north and today we are one step closer to fulfilling that commitment. The planning we are doing today will help ensure that when passenger rail returns to northern Ontario, it's done right. And, we are not taking any shortcuts."

See also: Budget includes $5 million for 'potential future passenger rail service'

The careful planning and implementation of the project have even drawn the attention of North Bay City Council.

"I know people in the north are eager to see the reinstatement of passenger rail," said Mulroney in May, "which is why we're working to deliver just that. We take safety very seriously and we need to do the necessary track audit and review the infrastructure that's in place."

A revamped Northlander would run on a proposed route with 13 stops from Toronto to Timmins, including one in North Bay.

"The stop in North Bay would also increase connectivity to Ontario Northland's bus routes travelling through this region...excellent news for North Bay and the surrounding communities," said Fedeli.

According to the business case, "Ontario Northland and Metrolinx propose to implement a passenger rail service along the Northeastern Rail Corridor, with variations on the frequency, amenities and northern terminus of the service...The scope and scale of upgrades would be dependent on the level of service offered."

"An enhanced transportation network that integrates rail and bus services provides an exciting opportunity for the region to grow and improve," added Moore. "A connected northern Ontario means more opportunities for businesses, more students choosing rural colleges and universities, more people accessing medical appointments in comfort, and more tourists visiting our beautiful northern Ontario."