Passenger rail plan loses steam: Lack of community support sidetracks group's effort to revive northeast service.

Author:Ross, Ian
Position:North Bay

A lack of funding to complete a conceptual plan to restore passenger service on the Ontario Northland Railway has put a grassroots revival effort on hold.

North Bay's Eric Boutilier, founder of All Aboard Northern Ontario, has called an indefinite halt on his initiative to finish the plan while he ponders the future of the advocacy movement he launched in 2017.

Boutilier said All Aboard has raised $20,000--with $5,000 apiece coming from the Temiskaming Municipal Association and the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association--but nothing from the communities on the Highway 11 corridor south of Temagami, including the City of North Bay.

The group needs between $10,000 and $15,000 to finish the report and book a facility to present it in a town hall meeting format.

"We're running out of options to try to finish this," said Boutilier. "It's just obstacle after obstacle that we're facing, and we have better things to do with our time."

Boutilier's attempt to raise funds online has only amounted to a few hundred dollars.

Many of the municipalities and government funders he's approached express interest but show empty pockets.

All Aboard released a teaser last October of their plan to restore the popular passenger rail service that was cancelled by the provincial government in 2012.

Boutilier's group has a conceptual plan to re-introduce service on the Ontario Northland Railway between Cochrane, North Bay and Toronto that could start as early as 2019 and increase in frequency by 2021.

The old Northlander name would be replaced with a revitalized service called the Northeast Lynx.

The report would outline the startup and annual operating costs, and identify the rolling stock and infrastructure requirements to make the case to convince the province to bring back the train.

It would generate work for Ontario Northland's refurbishment shops in North Bay to recondition serviceable locomotives and coaches available on the used equipment market.

The report's author and the group's rail consultant, Greg Gormick, said he's put off finishing the plan to work on other projects.

"Greg and I have gone as far as we can in trying to put together a credible plan," said Boutilier.

Since starting his fundraising push a year and half ago, Boutilier estimates he's had two dozen meetings with government agencies and potential funders, but has been told that budgets are limited or they choose to pass the buck to other levels of government.

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