Ontario’s Northlander Service Revival Advances

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor, Railway Age
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“Ontario Northland was pleased to be in Bracebridge today to share renderings of the shelters that will be installed at nine future Northlander stops,” the railroad company reported in a May 31 LinkedIn post. “Minister Vijay Thanagasalam also announced an investment of [C]$75 million in contracts to enhance rail safety and improve the passenger experience. Look out for our crews working on the rail and at future stop locations in Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Kirkland Lake and Matheson this summer!” (Ontario Northland Photograph)

ONTARIO - The Ontario government on May 31 awarded three contracts totaling C$75 million to design and build nine new station shelters, improve track, and complete warning system upgrades as part of its plan to reinstate Northlander passenger rail service between Timmons and Toronto with a rail connection to Cochrane.

Construction of the station platforms, parking areas and pathways will begin this summer, along with track improvements to improve rail safety, reduce derailment risks, and decrease train maintenance, according to the government.

Enseicom Inc. over the next two years will design and manufacture the station shelters—equipped with seating, lighting and heating—at Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Temiskaming Shores, Temagami, South River, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, and Washago. Remcan Ltd. will handle track work, and X-Rail will be responsible for completing warning system upgrades along the Northlander corridor north of North Bay, according to the government.

“People and businesses in northern and central Ontario deserve the same access to safe and reliable transportation as the rest of the province,” said Vijay Thanigasalam, Ontario’s Associate Minister of Transportation. “Reinstating the Northlander will not only support our northern industries and resource sectors, but it will also pave the way for a more integrated transportation network that connects communities from the north to the south.”

“This investment marks further progress on the reinstatement of the Northlander train service,” Ontario Northland CEO Chad Evans said. “The shelters will be safe, comfortable and accessible, providing a consistent, modern passenger experience for customers boarding and exiting the train all along the route. We are excited to see this work progress during this construction season and next.”

A rendering of a new Northlander shelter showcasing its sleek design and passenger-friendly features, which include comfortable seating and digital screens for passenger information. (Caption and Image courtesy of the Ontario government)
A rendering of a new Northlander shelter highlighting its modern design, comfortable seating area, and digital display screens for passenger information. (Caption and Image courtesy of the Ontario government)
This interior view rendering of a new Northlander shelter showcases comfortable seating and a well-lit, modern environment with large windows. (Caption and Image courtesy of the Ontario government)

The Ontario government’s May 31, 2024, announcement follows its December 2022 contract award of C$139.5 million to Siemens Mobility for three trainsets in support of Northlander service. In April 2022, the government reported that it would invest C$75 million to revive the service and released an Updated Initial Business Case to advance planning of the preferred route. That route, put forward by Metrolinx and Ontario Northland, runs from Toronto to Timmins with a rail connection to Cochrane. (Cochrane would provide a connection to Polar Bear Express service to Moosonee.) It offers 16 stops: Toronto (Union Station), Langstaff, Gormley, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, South River, North Bay, Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Kirkland Lake (Swastika), Matheson, Timmins and Cochrane (see map below).

A map of the proposed route for northeast passenger rail showing stops at Union Station (Toronto), Langstaff, Gormley, Washago, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville, South River, North Bay, Temagami, Timiskaming Shores, Englehart, Kirkland Lake (Swastika) Matheson, and Timmins, with a rail connection to Cochrane.

Ontario Northland’s Northlander Passenger Train—which ran between Cochrane, North Bay and Toronto—was discontinued in 2012.

Once reinstated, the government said, Northlander passenger rail service will operate four to seven days per week, based on seasonal travel demands. The Toronto Sun has reported that service is expected to begin in 2026.

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