Ontario Northland says it values the input received from a community engagement session with South River council members and municipal staff involving efforts to bring passenger rail service back to Northern Ontario.
South River has suggested it be one of the 13 sites where the potential new rail service should stop.
Ontario Northland and South River officials met in the village during the first week of September to discuss the transportation needs of the community and general area.
The meeting was the result of Corina Moore, president and chief executive officer of Ontario Northland, agreeing to meet with local officials after getting a letter from the village in June that made the case for why South River should be one of the stops.
In a statement to the Nugget, Ontario Northland says “it's pleased to have had productive discussions with leaders in South River about transportation, economic development and tourism for the region.”
In addition to saying it values the input generated at the private meeting, Ontario Northland says it “understands the positive impact of a passenger rail stop in South River.”
Ontario Northland is holding a series of engagement sessions, and the results from those sessions will be used “to inform the updated business case and will be presented to the government for further evaluation and decision-making.”
Ontario Northland further states it recognizes “the importance of connecting communities with safe, reliable and efficient transportation,” and that the sessions are one way it can strengthen the connection with the communities it serves and improve transportation in the region.
Ontario Northland says more planning related to passenger rail service is underway, including holding engagement sessions with municipal and Indigenous partners, along with a further analysis of equipment and infrastructure.
From South River's standpoint, clerk-administrator Don McArthur told the Nugget “it was a really good and timely meeting.”
McArthur said local officials made the case for why South River should be one of the rail stops under a new passenger service, and they raised a second point.
South River used to be a regular stop decades ago for passenger pickup and dropoff at the village's former train station.
McArthur said town officials told Ontario Northland of the current effort to restore the old train station, which is now in part used as a museum.
Although details of the engagement session will not be made public, McArthur said “we were able to share a lot of information about both of those projects, and we looked for areas where there could be cooperation and synergies moving forward.”
McArthur says making South River one of the 13 scheduled stops is not only good for the village but much of Almaguin Highlands.
“We're hoping we get support from Ontario Northland for that moving forward,” he said.
“We made the point to Corina Moore how well situated South River is to become one of those stops.”
McArthur says South River wants to have as much input as possible in the passenger rail study.
With the study taking place as a public process, he says there will be more opportunities for the village to make its business case.
Ontario Northland is currently working with the Ministry of Transportation and Metrolinx on making a case for a return of passenger rail service to Northern Ontario.
The proposal calls for the train to travel from Toronto to either Timmins or Cochrane, with 13 scheduled stops along the tracks.
Work on the business case is expected to be completed by spring of 2022.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.
Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative, The North Bay Nugget