Work behind the scenes continues involving the return of Ontario Northland passenger train service to the area. 

ONTC officials told District of Muskoka council last week that the hope is to be back on the tracks by the mid-2020s. 

Senior Director of Passenger Operations Tracy MacPhee says they’re updating the business case, and explains the goal.  

“To help inform the future funding decisions on the return of passenger rail.  This is where we are right now.  We are working with Metrolinx and also collaborating with the Ministry of Transportation to put this up in a business case, in front of government officials,” she says.

The plan, which is expected to be submitted early next year, will include a test train being run from North Bay to Toronto’s Union Station to determine what state the track is in.

MacPhee says the proposed schedule includes a late-night or overnight departure from either Timmins or Cochrane and arriving in Toronto mid-to-late morning. 

“We heard loud and clear when the previous train operated it was very difficult arriving in the late evening, spending a night in Toronto prior to being able to do your appointment or business meeting or whatever you needed to do the next day,” she says.

The agency did a study to get an idea about what ridership would look like.

From 2007 to 2011 – which were the last five years of the train’s original run –  an estimated 41,000 people used it per year. MacPhee says the study showed an estimated 37,000 to 54,000 people will use the new train, but noted the study was done before the COVID-19 pandemic, which changed people’s transportation patterns.

“We think that will actually increase the ridership,” MacPhee said, pointing out how many people are spending time at their cottage during the pandemic while working from home.

Being that they’re still in the early planning stages, fares have not been determined.  However, MacPhee said they will be comparable to bus tickets and what it previously cost to take the train.

The former Northlander train last operated on September 28th, 2012.

**With files from Mathew Reisler.