So what’s taking so long to restore the Northlander?

The Ministry of Transportation is seeking feedback from Northerners to “better understand the unique transportation needs of people and businesses” situated along the Toronto, North Bay and Cochrane rail corridor to “help develop a plan to improve the transportation system” in the region.

Remind me again… didn’t Ontario Northland just submit its very own business case plan earlier this year? Wasn’t this the same crown corporation the MPP for Nipissing lauded for its capabilities to produce a viable plan to put the Northlander back on the rails? At least it’s the impression I had considering how this taxpayer funded document remains under lock and key, and how I’ve been waiting eight months on an appeal to see it for myself.

A little more than two years into the current government’s mandate, and this is where we’re at in the process?!? What’s the hold up? This is data collection that should have been completed long ago!

Is it a matter of not knowing whether there is sufficient ridership? Well we know by the government’s own consultant that exceeding 35 000 annual riders is proof there is ample demand for the Northlander. I mean, the citizen’s group I founded — All Aboard Northern Ontario — had collected more than 50 testimonials about the how the loss of this service has had negative impacts on the overall wellbeing of seniors, students, families and medical patients.

Is it because of a lack of resources to work with? I find that hard to believe considering the MTO and ONTC are funded through the public purse.

How about a lack of time? Well, 854 days have elapsed since the current government took power on June 29, 2018.

Our elected officials are ultimately the ones who are holding up progress on the return of passenger rail to Northeastern Ontario. Their inaction is nothing more than an attempt to further stall the process of actually restoring the train that was taken from us eight years ago.

Folks, this isn’t rocket science. Northerners require no less than a daily passenger train that reliably connects them to communities they need to travel to, in reasonable comfort and at an affordable price.

To maximize the train’s full potential, the service must be restored to each of the previous 20 station/stops AND the other dozen or so cities and towns along the corridor that were previously ignored for no apparent reason. The fares should be competitively priced similar to GO Transit and VIA Rail. Synergies between the Northlander and other  government funded providers such as should be seamless.

Ontario Northland customers pay nearly double the price when traveling between the same communities served either by GO Transit or VIA Rail.

Within the government’s first year at the helm, GO Train service was expanded to St. Catharines and Niagara Falls. In the midst of a pandemic, the province launched a bus service in Northwestern Ontario. It’s now time for the government follow through with its commitment to our restore passenger rail service.

Talk is cheap, and time is ticking away. We’ve seen come and go the Northern Ontario Growth Plan and the Northern Ontario Multimodal Transportation Study. The region meanwhile has become increasingly isolated.

Elvis Presley once famously said : “A little less conversation, a little more action“.

The fate of the passenger rail rests in the hands of the provincial member of parliament of Nipissing, the Minister of Transportation and the government. It will be on their watch if this promise isn’t upheld.

PUBLISHED : Monday, October 26, 2020

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