Ontario cottagers may soon have a new way to travel to and from the cottage.
Early Monday morning, Ontario Northland, a provincially-owned transport operator, sent a test train from North Bay to Toronto’s Union Station and back.
The test was used to gather information on the route, evaluating track conditions and verifying transit times between stops, the Ministry of Transportation said in an email.
As part of the test, the train travelled through Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, Washago, Gormley, and Langstaff, carrying 15 passengers and a small number of employees who operated equipment and collected data.
Notable passengers included Parry Sound-Muskoka MPP Norm Miller, Nipissing MPP Vic Fedeli, Ontario Northland president Corina Moore, and several northern Ontario mayors from stops along the proposed route.
The entire route, which was first proposed in a May 2021 government report, would include 13-stops, and go as far north as Timmins.
The @OntNorthland test train has officially departed North Bay for Toronto! 🚆
We’re gathering data to develop our plan to bring passenger rail to Northeastern Ontario.
Follow along with us today for updates. pic.twitter.com/aaqUZZVNOm
— Ontario Ministry of Transportation (@ONtransport) November 22, 2021
Train passage between Toronto and northern Ontario isn’t a new concept, though. In fact, this same route was serviced by Ontario Northland until 2012 when the Dalton McGuinty government cancelled the service, claiming it was financially unprofitable.
In 2018, current Ontario Premier, Doug Ford, revisited the idea of northeastern rail service in his election campaign. When the provincial government released their 2021 budget last March, Ford pledged $5 million towards planning and designing a rail service that catered to northern communities.
“We made a commitment to return passenger rail to the North and we are one step closer to fulfilling that commitment,” Vic Fideli said in a May press release.
“Improved passenger rail would provide people across Parry Sound-Muskoka with another way to travel both north and south to access services and it would give visitors to our local tourism operators a comfortable way to travel to the area,” Norm Miller added.
Train service would run based on seasonal travel demands, ranging from four to seven days a week. An added benefit would be that passengers coming from the North could travel overnight to maximize their day in the Toronto area and reduce the need for overnight accommodations.
No date has been announced for when train service will open to the public, but according to the Ministry of Transportation, their goal is to use the data collected from the test run to update their current business case—a report that forecasts costs, revenue, and ridership figures—by 2022, making the train route available by the mid-2020s.