It’ll soon be simpler – and sleeker – to access Muskoka without a car. A few years back, the Ontario government announced the return of the Northlander passenger train service between Toronto and Timmins come 2026. The cottage country (and beyond) train service was discontinued more than a decade ago, in 2012.

Today, the Ontario government announced plans for the creation of nine shiny new station shelters to be built along the railway line, including in Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, and Huntsville. It awarded three contracts to design and manufacture nine new station shelters, enhance rail safety, and complete warning system upgrades.

"People and businesses in northern and central Ontario deserve the same access to safe and reliable transportation as the rest of the province,” said Vijay Thanigasalam, Associate Minister of Transportation, in a press release. “Reinstating the Northlander will not only support our northern industries and resource sectors, but it will also pave the way for a more integrated transportation network that connects communities from the north to the south.”

Enseicom Inc. has been awarded the contract to design and manufacture the station shelters; Remcan Ltd. has been awarded the contract for track improvements to enhance rail safety, decrease maintenance and reduce derailment risks; and X-Rail has been awarded the contract to complete warning system upgrades along the Northlander corridor north of North Bay.

Over the next two years, new station shelters with seating, lighting, heating, and digital screens will be installed in Matheson, Kirkland Lake, Temiskaming Shores, Temagami, South River, Huntsville, Bracebridge, Gravenhurst, and Washago.

The return of the train service is a significant move; it opens northern Ontario up to both new vacationers and business opportunities. Earlier this spring, cottage country expert Ross Halloran shared with STOREYS that the return of the service means a cost-effective, hassle-free access to cottage country and hopefully a positive impact on the small businesses in Muskoka’s communities.

"The restoration of the Northlander reflects our government’s dedication to supporting our small and rural communities with the critical infrastructure they need and deserve,” said Graydon Smith, MPP Parry Sound—Muskoka. “We’re creating accessibility and mobility for our local residents, connecting them to people, places and opportunities across Ontario."

In addition to the tourism opportunities, the restored service will unlock the full economic potential of northern industries, resources, and minerals in northern Ontario.

"For far too long, previous governments ignored the transportation needs of people in Timmins and across northern Ontario,” said George Pirie. “The reinstatement of the Northlander is a huge win for the people of northern Ontario and industries like mining that rely on workers to travel to our region. I am proud to be part of a government that listens to the needs of northerners and takes decisive action to ensure that everyone can get where they need to go."