A northeastern Ontario passenger rail advocacy group is laying the groundwork to restore a popular service that was cancelled by the provincial government in 2012.
With growing political support on their side, All Aboard Northern Ontario is proposing a conceptual plan to reintroduce 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.
"It's really exciting to see that we've got die potential here for presenting something that makes sense," said the group's founder, Eric Boutilier.
The old Northlander name is being banished to history to be replaced with a revitalized service called the Northeast Lynx.
Boutilier said the proposal they're putting forth is scalable based on the ridership numbers and the financial performance of each phase of the plan.
It's a one-ticket integrated transportation solution that uses buses as a feeder system to bring passengers from outlying communities to the train and ties into the mass transit system in the Greater Toronto Area.
Crafted by rail consultant Greg Gormick, the report will detail the startup and annual operating costs, and identify the rolling stock and infrastructure requirements to make a credible case to convince the province to bring back the train.
"It's basically answering the questions that I've been asking myself for the last few years," said Boutilier.
"What's it going cost and what's it going to take to bring it back?"
Funding for Gormick to write the report came from the Temiskaming Municipal Association and the Northeastern Ontario Municipal Association.
Gormick scrolled through his extensive Rolodex of retired and active rail industry professionals who contributed their time and expertise, including former Amtrak president David Gunn, now living on Cape Breton.
"We've been able to draw on a million dollars' worth of talent for free."
He expects to publicly release the report in North Bay in late October or early November, but not before it's peer-reviewed by rail industry experts.
"I want to make sure it's bulletproof."
Gormick said his plan would still need a higher level of study. But he's buoyed by the positive professional feedback he's received, including from Ontario Northland management, "that this is doable."
Should it be adopted by the province, and if the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission and Ottawa can get CN Rail to play ball on access to a critical section of track...