TORONTO -- Ontario Northland's train service between Cochrane and Toronto will make its final run Sept. 28, Northern Development Minister Rick Bartolucci announced Thursday.

"In a time of fiscal belt-tightening, we cannot afford an inefficient and expensive government-owned transportation and telecommunications system," Bartolucci said in a release.

The Liberal government announced plans to sell the Ontario Northland Transportation Commission in the March budget, saying it's annual subsidy had grown from $27 million in 2003 to about $100 million a year, a figure the New Democrats dispute.

"The $100 million includes capital that the government has been giving, and rightfully so, in order to make major improvements on the rail lines, the bus routes, the marine services and the telecommunications services that are part of the ONTC," said NDP house leader Gilles Bisson.

"The real subsidy is $28 million a year, and the capital (spending) has been added on top of that."

The Progressive Conservatives said the government won't actually save any money by trying to sell off all businesses run by the ONTC by next March 31, especially with a $150-million unfunded pension liability.

"Buyers will be salivating because they can smell the desperation in the government, and they'll figure out quickly there's no plan here," said Conservative Vic Fedeli.

"It's a fire sale."

The Liberals are trying to quiet growing opposition to the sale of the ONTC from people and political leaders in northeastern Ontario, said Bisson.

"If they can shut down the train, they figure they can kill the opposition and the people of northern Ontario will stop protesting," he said.

GO trains and the Toronto Transit Commission both rely on government subsidies to stay in business, as do other public transit systems in Ontario, added Bisson.

"We do that because it is good public policy to provide the needs of transportation when it comes to infrastructure," he said.

"Why should it not be the same for northeastern Ontario?"

Ontario Northland buses will continue to serve all the communities that will lose their regular train service next month, and the Polar Bear Express train between Cochrane and Moosonee will not be affected, said Bartolucci.

"Every community served by the Northlander train is also served by ONTC bus service that will continue to run as usual," he said.

The Niska I ferry, which sails between Moosonee and Moose Factory Island, is being transferred to the Owen Sound Transportation Company, with no changes to service.

Ontera, a telecommunications system, will be the first ONTC business line put up for sale.

The government also announced Thursday it has exempted itself from the need for an environmental assessment for all activities related to the sale of Ontario Northland.

"That's not going to exempt the fact there are contamination issues from railway spills over the past 100 years," said Fedeli.

"You can exempt yourself all you want, (but) that doesn't preclude the fact there are environmental issues that somebody, some day is going to have to face."