Potential South River stop for restored passenger train

South River council members are delighted and excited by the announcement of the restoration of passenger rail service in Northeastern Ontario. Com. Bill O’Hallarn told council colleagues that South River was one of 16 communities named in the process where further planning will take place to determine a preferred route for service from Toronto to Timmins, along with another rail connection to Cochrane. South River is the only community in the Almaguin Highlands chosen as a potential train stop. Traveling south from South River, the train would then stop at Huntsville, Bracebridge and Gravenhurst. These stops are followed by Washago, Gormley, Langstaff and Union Station in Toronto. Proposed stops north of South River would be North Bay, Temagami, Temiskaming Shores, Englehart, Kirkland Lake, Matheson, and Timmins. Cochrane becomes the 16th stop thanks to a new rail link with Timmins. The $75 million announcement would see the service return around 2025. The service would be based on seasonal travel demands and run four to seven days a week. It would also include an option for Far North passengers heading to Toronto to choose overnight travel, reducing the need for overnight accommodations. O’Hallarn said his understanding of the announcement is that the Ontario government will build stations along the preferred route where there are currently no stations. This is where South River is ahead of the curve. The old South River station where the Northlander stopped decades ago before South River was no longer a passenger rail stop in the 1990s still stands in the community. Part of the building is used as a museum while the rest is unused. Last summer, the municipality applied to the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC) for a $190,000 grant to review the structural integrity of the building and develop an architectural design. Clerk-Administrator Don McArthur says the municipality has brought in Bertrand Wheeler Architecture of North Bay to see how the existing building can once again serve as a station. McArthur says an important element at this stage of the work is the creation of accessible washrooms. This is easier said than done, as in a previous interview, McArthur pointed out that the old station is not serviced by the municipal water system, so a way must be found to deliver the water to the site, which then clears a path for the construction of the toilets. . Although the NOHFC has yet to announce approval of the $190,000 funding request, McAuthur remains “optimistic about the grant and that’s why we keep moving forward.” Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government canceled Northlander passenger rail service in 2012. In the 2018 provincial election, Conservative Leader Doug Ford pledged to restore passenger rail service to the North if elected premier. In announcing the weekend to restore rail service, the government also released information indicating annual ridership was estimated to be between 40,000 and 60,000 people by 2041.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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