Ontario Northland Railway

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ON_switching_in_Hearst,_ON.jpg
A pair of Ontario Northland diesels work in Hearst, in 2003.

The Ontario Northland Railway (ONR, AAR reporting marks ONT, ONTA) is a Canadian railway and provincial Crown corporation. Its north-south mainline has a southern terminus at North Bay, passing through Cochrane, and a northern terminus at Moosonee, on the south shore of James Bay - all in its namesake province of Ontario. An east-west secondary mainline connects Calstock (near Hearst) with Cochrane and a line extends from Swastika (south of Cochrane) into the neighbouring province of Quebec where it terminates at Rouyn-Noranda. The railway's forty kilometres of track in Quebec are operated by a subsidiary, the Nipissing Central Railway.

Originally built to develop the Lake Timiskaming and Lake Nipissing areas, this railway soon became a major factor in the economic growth of the province. After decades of hard construction through the Canadian Shield it reached James Bay in 1932. While blasting the route through the shield, geologists discovered vast deposits of valuable minerals such as gold, silver, copper and nickel. The railway also made it possible to exploit the vast timber resources of Northern Ontario. The importance of the ONR is witnessed by the vast increase in mineral exploration and exploitation, giving rise to the valuable mining stocks on the Toronto Stock Exchange and indirectly leading to Southern Ontario's economic boom during the 1970s.

Contents

History 1902-1946

The railway was incorporated as the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway on March 17, 1902, by an act of the Ontario parliament, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Act. The railway was to be a provincial Crown corporation overseen by the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Commission. Construction on the railway started in 1903, and reached New Liskeard, in the Lake Timiskaming area, by 1905. The railway reached Englehart in 1906, and Cochrane in 1909. In the next few years, several branch lines were built.

In 1921, construction on a line north to James Bay was started. In 1923, the new Conservative premier of Ontario, Howard Ferguson, halted further construction, stating that it would be unprofitable. For four years the terminus of the line remained at Fraserdale, near Abitibi Canyon, where a hydroelectric dam was being built on the Abitibi River. Between 1928 and 1930 the railway was extended north at a slow pace. The pace of construction was quickened in 1930 as a make-work project due to the depression. The extension to James Bay was opened on July 15, 1932. The terminus of the railway was at a point at the mouth of the Moose River near the old trading post of Revillon Frères. It was named Moosonee, from the Cree meaning "at the moose".

A name change for the railway was first proposed in 1942 by Arthur Cavanagh, who was chairman of the commission between 1940 and 1944. He noted that it would have the advantage of associating the railway with the province, not just with the District of Timiskaming. A name change would also avoid confusion with the Texas and New Orleans Railway, which had the same initials. The Ontario railway would often have boxcars misdirected in the United States, while receiving invoices that should have gone to Texas. The railway's name was changed to the Ontario Northland Railway on April 5, 1946, when a bill amending the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Act received assent.

History 1946-2005

Three new mines were opened in Northern Ontario in the 1950s and 1960s. Sherman Mine in Temagami was opened in 1955, Adams Mine in Kirkland Lake in 1963, and Kidd Creek Mine in Timmins in 1967. The Ontario Northland Railway built spurs to serve these mines.

In 1993, CN applied to abandon sections of its underused former National Transcontinental Railway mainline across northern Ontario (it had previously abandoned the portion of the line between Calstock and Nakina in 1988). The portion between Calstock and Cochrane was sold to ONR.

In December 2000, the Ontario government announced that it would be privatising the railway. CN submitted a bid in March 2002, and in October the government gave them exclusive rights to negotiate a purchase of the railway. However, the deal fell through on July 2, 2003, over the government's insistence on job guarantees, and the railway remains in public hands. On February 25, 2005, CN and ONR signed a routing agreement in which ONR would transport CN's freight traffic that travels between Noranda and either Hearst or North Bay.

Passenger trains

Ontario Northland is best known for the daily Polar Bear Express (http://www.polarbearexpress.ca/) train which runs from Cochrane to Moosonee, bringing tourists as well as essential supplies to this remote northern town, which cannot be reached by road. The "Express" part of the name is something of a joke, because the train will happily stop along its route to pick up or drop off canoeing parties. There is also a "mixed" freight/passenger train affectionately called the Little Bear. The Northlander is another ONR passenger train which runs partly on CN tracks from Toronto to Cochrane via North Bay. The Northlander makes one trip per day in each direction six days a week.

Buses

Ontario Northland also operates bus services and parcel between Toronto (from Yorkdale GO Terminal and locations in Central and Northern Ontario.

Some locations served by bus service:

  • Toronto
  • Hearst
  • Kapuskasing
  • Barrie
  • Huntsville
  • Cochrane
  • Bracebridge
  • Gravenhurst
  • Orilla
  • Parry Sound
  • Temagami
  • North Bay
  • Kirkland Lake
  • Timminis

ONTR operates the following bus types:

  • MCI D4500
  • MCI 102A2

Freight services

Connections with other railway systems are made as follows:

Locomotives and rolling stock

The railway currently owns around 25 diesel locomotives, and roughly 700 items of rolling stock. One of its more unusual pieces of rolling stock is a canoe car, which is in service in the summer, as part of the Little Bear passenger train. The car can hold up to eighteen canoes. Canoeists can put their canoe on this car as part of their baggage. It is the only known train car specifically designed for transporting canoes and kayaks.

In 1977, the railway purchased a Trans-Europe Express train set retired from the Dutch railways, for use on its Northlander train. However, the experiment was not entirely successful. The locomotives were scrapped in 1984, although the passenger cars survived somewhat longer.

Ontario Northland Transportation Commission

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Ontario Northland building in North Bay

The Ontario Northland Transportation Commission was established as the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Commission in 1902 to oversee the railway. In 1946, with the name change to the railway, the name of the commission was changed to the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission. The use of the word "transportation" instead of "railway" in the commission's name reflected a new, expanded mandate for the commission.

In 1937, the Temiskaming and Northern Ontario Railway Act was amended, enabling the Commission to operate buses, trucks, and aeroplanes in order to carry passengers and freight. By 1938 the Commission had acquired 11 buses. In 1945, the Commission acquired the Temagami and the Nipissing Navigation Companies. Legislation in 1946 allowed the Commission to acquire, construct, and operate boats, as well as hotels, tourist resorts, and restaurants. In 1960 it purchased a trucking firm, Star Transfer.

The railway is still operated today by the commission, which still runs various other transport enterprises, including a bus coach services along the Toronto-North Bay-Timmins-Hearst and Toronto-Sudbury-Timmins corridors, and a telephone and telecommunications company. The commission is an agency of the Ontario government and is used to promote development in northern Ontario.

References

External links

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