Ontario Northland (ONTC) is running a test train to Toronto.
The ONTC says they’re validating transit times as part of their ongoing work on the northeastern passenger rail service business case.
Vic Fedeli, Nipissing MPP, posted on social media Monday morning that he was aboard the ‘The Northlander’ for its test-run to Toronto. “They’re checking the times along the way,” says Fedeli from onboard the test train. “It’s also to evaluate the track conditions. We see them, the men and women from Ontario Northland up and down the cars, looking at the mile markers, they’re looking at the various stations. They’re working with Metrolinx, who have their people here as well.”
Gravenhurst’s Mayor Paul Kelly and Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller were two of the many political leaders on board the train.
Speaking to the MyMuskokaNow.com newsroom from Union Station in Toronto, Kelly says the ride was “amazing.” He occasionally took the GO Train from Barrie to Toronto and says the Northlander is a lot nicer.
“I think there’s some real momentum,” Kelly adds. “There’s real excitement about getting passenger rail back to Muskoka.”
Kelly says the train left North Bay around 6 AM, arrived in Gravenhurst shortly after 9 and was in Toronto by lunchtime. For this to be successful, he says ONTC has to offer same-day service. “It can’t be overnight,” Kelly says.
“I think they’ve proven today they can do it,” he adds.
While Bracebridge Mayor Graydon Smith didn’t travel to Toronto, he did greet the dignitaries as they made a quick stop in Bracebridge. “It was great to see,” he says.
“I think a lot of other leaders in all the communities up and down that line think it’s an important service for the people in those communities,” Smith goes on to say. The test train is part of the plan that could see passenger rail return to Muskoka by the mid-2020s.
There are still no specifics on timelines for when passenger rail will return, but Fedeli reiterates they want to get it right.
On the return trip to North Bay, ONTC President and CEO Corina Moore told MyNorthBayNow.com the test run has been a success. “100-percent,” she says. “Our rail operations team is on board, they’re looking at the track infrastructure, we’re looking at transit times and the comfort of the ride. We are just thrilled with how it’s going.”
With the goal of returning to service in the mid-2020s in mind, Moore says this test will help them update their business case. “We’ve certainly heard a lot of really good feedback as we always do from the northern municipalities and just the impact that this rail service will have in attracting tourism and economic development,” she says.
Moore says the work they are doing for the business case also includes ridership details, negotiations with CN for running rates agreements, passenger coach requirements and more.
She says the business case will be provided to the government in early 2022.
“There’s the opportunity for people that live here to get both north and south of us,” Smith says of the train, adding it’s also a chance for people along the line and other parts of Ontario to come to Muskoka. “We know we’re a destination for a lot of people.”
The issue is some people don’t have the ability to drive here, while other may find the long drive intimidating. But, by having a passenger rail service, Smith believes it will make coming to our neck of the woods more welcoming.
The Ministry of Transportation tweeted that they’re gathering data on the train run from North Bay to Toronto to develop their plan to bring passenger rail to Northeastern Ontario.
Earlier this month, Caroline Mulroney, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation announced that Timmins would be the location of the northern terminus station.
With files from Richard Coffin