Re­turn of pas­sen­ger rail?

Pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice could be serv­ing North­east­ern On­tario by next year, if all the pieces fall into place.

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - FRONT PAGE - PJ Wil­son

Pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice could be serv­ing North­east­ern On­tario by next year, if all the pieces fall into place.

eric boutilier, founder of the ad­vo­cacy group all aboard North­ern On­tario, says he and a con­sul­tant hired to ex­am­ine the vi­a­bil­ity of the plan have been meet­ing with pro­vin­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tives since the election in June.

the new pas­sen­ger ser­vice, to be called North­east lynx, would be an in­te­grated ser­vice that uses On­tario North­land buses to bring out­ly­ing pas­sen­gers to the train, which will then con­nect with Metrolinx’s mass-tran­sit sys­tem in the Greater toronto area.

the con­cept is sim­i­lar to how GO tran­sit and ttc con­nect.

“We met with (Nipiss­ing MPP and pro­vin­cial fi­nance min­is­ter) Vic (Fedeli) … and he has re­peated on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions that this is some­thing the prov­ince is com­mit­ted to do­ing in its man­date,” boutilier said.

“We are try­ing to steer the gov­ern­ment in the right di­rec­tion,” he said, with cost­ing set out to get the train ser­vice up and run­ning from toronto to cochrane.

A pub­lic re­port is ex­pected to be un­veiled later this month or in early Novem­ber, “re­spect­ing the bud­get that the gov­ern­ment cam­paigned on” to re­store the ser­vice that was elim­i­nated in 2012 by the for­mer lib­eral gov­ern­ment of dalton McGuinty.

boutilier called it a “con­cep­tual plan” that ad­heres to the pa­ram­e­ters set out by Pro­gres­sive con­ser­va­tive leader doug Ford dur­ing the pro­vin­cial cam­paign.

“it’s some­thing that makes sense,” boutilier said.

rail con­sul­tant Greg Gormick, who is pre­par­ing and fine-tun­ing the plan, said it will out­line the startup and an­nual op­er­at­ing costs of the ven­ture, as well as iden­tify the rolling stock and in­fra­struc­ture nec­es­sary to re­in­state the ser­vice.

“this is some­thing that is so ob­vi­ously re­quired,” he said. “the train should never have been taken away.”

it won’t be cheap, though, Gormick warned.

One of the pricier com­po­nents, he said, is reach­ing a deal with CN rail to ac­cess a sec­tion of bala Sub­di­vi­sion track be­tween rich­mond hill and Washago.

Gormick’s pro­posal is to con­nect two sid­ings to cre­ate a 21-kilo­me­tre dou­ble-track sec­tion at an es­ti­mated cost of $30 mil­lion.

if an agree­ment can be reached on that sec­tion, he said, On­tario North­land would ne­go­ti­ate a train ser­vice agree­ment with CN.

con­nect­ing On­tario North­land buses to the train is a key com­po­nent of the North­east lynx pas­sen­ger ser­vice plan.

the ser­vice would use con­ven­tional tech­nol­ogy and tech­niques, he says, and would be phased in over sev­eral years.

“the most im­por­tant thing is to get some­thing out there,” Gormick said.

al­ready, he added, there is equip­ment avail­able through both the ONTC and Metrolinx to get the ser­vice up and run­ning, with more equip­ment avail­able in the fu­ture for ex­pan­sion of the ser­vice.

it would all be up­graded through the On­tario North­land shops in North bay, he said.

the prov­ince also would be asked to pony up $12 mil­lion in an­nual op­er­at­ing sub­si­dies.

“there is very lit­tle cap­i­tal cost,” Gormick said.

“We are only look­ing at an op­er­at­ing sub­sidy and a cou­ple of mil­lion (dol­lars) at the most to touch up the equip­ment.”

Gormick said he has been in ex­ten­sive con­tact with cur­rent and re­tired rail in­dus­try pro­fes­sion­als to come up with the pro­posal. it will be peer­re­viewed be­fore be­ing pre­sented to the pub­lic.

“this is doable.” Gormick said he has re­ceived a warm re­cep­tion from both se­nior lev­els of gov­ern­ment, which have both said they see “a lot of po­ten­tial” for the ser­vice.

in its fi­nal year of ser­vice, the North­lander pas­sen­ger train trans­ported about 35,000 pas­sen­gers, which Gormick said is be­ing con­sid­ered the base for rid­er­ship.

“We can work with a 35,000 rid­er­ship base. that’s pretty good. but this pro­posal is to of­fer bet­ter equip­ment, a re­li­able sched­ule and af­ford­able fares.”

Fund­ing for the re­port was made avail­able through the temiskam­ing Mu­nic­i­pal as­so­ci­a­tion and the North­east­ern On­tario Mu­nic­i­pal as­so­ci­a­tion.

Fedeli said the gov­ern­ment “is com­mit­ted to ful­fill­ing its cam­paign com­mit­ments, in­clud­ing pas­sen­ger rail.”

Fol­low­ing his re-election in June, Fedeli said the gov­ern­ment’s pri­or­i­ties in­cluded restor­ing pas­sen­ger rail ser­vice.

Post­media netWork file Photo

The last North­lander train left The Sta­tion in North Bay Sept. 28, 2012. As On­tario North­land Trans­porta­tion Com­mis­sion work­ers, union rep­re­sen­ta­tives, elected of­fi­cials and res­i­dents gath­ered in protest, the train de­parted for the last time on its way to Cochrane.

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