Economic Boost Rollin’ down the Tracks for South River with return of Ontario Northlander

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Economic Boost Rollin’ down the Tracks for South River with return of Ontario Northlander

November 10th, 2023 by Sarah Cooke

Ontario Northland is choo-choo-choosing to return rail service to South River and while this isn’t new news, the community consultation portion of the process commenced on October 25 at the South River Arena.

The revival of the train service to South River is an economic boost to the entire Almaguin region and, according to South River’s Clerk-Administrator Don McArthur, there are a tremendous amount of benefits.

“Locals will be able to access the city of Toronto on a daily basis without having to use a car,” McArthur said, adding that when it comes to the local economy, the tourism sector will see the boost.  

“… People from the GTA area (will) be able to get here in a day and not have to use a car but it’s not just that market but someone can arrive at Pearson, take the UP transport to Union Station and get as far as Moosenee without ever having to rent a car or use any other form of transportation,” he explained. “The connection into South River and the Almaguin Highlands is great – it’s almost limitless the economic opportunities.”

In addition, McArthur noted the Village of South River has an application in with FedNor to contribute to further modernization and accessibility of the train station.

“We’ve been successful with the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, we’ve been working with them for well over a year now on one phase,” he said. “We also have an application in with FedNor (and) we’re optimistic that will put us over the hump so that the train station is usable again.”

The community consultation invited residents to speak with Ontario Northland representatives and while ACED asked Northland about what the next steps were and if there were any consistent thoughts or concerns raised by residents, Northland did not provide a comment by the time of publication.

However, according to Northland’s online FAQ, the planned relaunch date for the northeast rail service is in the mid-2020s.

Todd Lucier of Explore South River said the train is an important asset to businesses in the region.

“To be able to book individual visitors to come up to the region without challenges of driving all year – particularly in the winter,” said Lucier, mentioning he had partnered with Ontario Tourism with initiatives such as, “Rails, trails and ales where we partnered with the brewery, bikes and Ontario Northland to do amazing experiences but that all disappeared when the train disappeared so it’s a really great opportunity to revisit these ideas.”

“We’re ready for them,” he added. “… To have a stop in Almaguin is so vital. If we were left with Huntsville or North Bay, we’d be in a pickle. It’s a long way to travel to get there but with this stop, right in the middle of Almaguin, we’ve got access to a really viable commercial service.”

And it’s not just South River that will see the benefits, Burk’s Falls’ Mayor Chris Hope emphasized the return of rail service as fantastic.

“Anyone who grew up here knows we used to have regular train service which was used all the time,” said Hope.

“Here in South River, we’re happy to support them and help them – we hope that our regional transportation ambitions will work out and coordinate with this,” he added. “Hopefully in the future, Burk’s Falls will be able to get a station again. We really want it back.”