Category Archives for "Intercity Rail and Bus"

Nov 21

Ontario’s 2018 Fall Economic Statement – Mixed Signals on Transportation

By Transport Action Ontario | Highways and Bridges , Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario , Urban Transit

On November 15, Ontario released its 2018 Fall Economic Statement (FES). It is a large document covering all aspects of the Province’s operations. It is likely the most significant statement on the government’s intentions until the provincial budget comes out in Spring, 2019.

To date, the government has implemented various tax and fee cuts, including cancelling cap and trade, putting in a hiring freeze, changing labour laws, and cancelling some projects and programs, including 4 new universities, 758 renewable energy contracts, and the Environmental Commissioner office. There is a lot of public worry about additional future cuts as the government struggles to balance its books.

The statements on transportation in the FES are a mixed bag as summarized below:

• In contrast to their election platform promise to reinstate the Northlander train, the FES emphasizes northern highway improvements, and only promises to “review other initiatives to meet Northerners’ transportation needs, including passenger rail and bus services”.

• Similarly, in contrast to their promise to deliver all transit and transportation projects currently funded, the FES simply indicates that “the government looks forward to completing its review of all capital projects and intends to share details in the coming months”.

• The campaign plan to upload responsibility for existing and new subway lines from Toronto is maintained in the FES. See previous posting on this topic on the TAO website for more details. We have now heard that the advisory report on this uploading will be coming to the government by the end of this month.

• The campaign promise to actively explore High Speed Rail in Southwestern Ontario has been replaced with a plan to analyze a range of “options to either upgrade existing rail corridors, create new ones or utilize other forms of transportation.” This appears to be a welcome step-back from the previous government’s single-minded pursuit of High Speed Rail only. TAO has long advocated for a review of rail alternatives such as High Performance Rail involving incremental improvements to train speed and frequency on all existing corridors. But of course, the “other forms of transportation” statement bears watching.

• As expected, the province is reviving the Environmental Assessment for the GTA-W highway corridor. TAO participated in the previous EA process, emphasizing that existing infrastructure (rail, provincial highways, regional roads) need expansion to full capacity prior to a new expressway being built.

• A new item in the FES is a planned review of the enabling legislation for Metrolinx to “enhance the agency’s focus on regional transit delivery and service excellence”. Whether this leads to some sort of broader scope for Metrolinx, such as one regional transit agency like “Superlinx”, remains to be seen.

• The province is continuing work on the Greater Golden Horseshoe transportation plan, to which TAO and other non-government organizations have previously inputted.

• The FES is silent on the campaign promise to add $5B in new subway funding to build various lines in the GTHA. It is also silent on other topics that TAO has urged action on, including living up to the previous government promises of higher gas tax revenue to municipalities and provincial contributions to transit fare integration in Greater Toronto, as well as assistance to municipalities to implement low-income fares/passes.

 

In summary, with this new government, there are many planned or potential major changes to Ontario’s transportation landscape. TAO intends to closely monitor all of these and provide input to ensure that sustainability gets its fair due.

Nov 12

Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster – New Book Discusses Regulatory Failure

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Almost all Canadians will the remember the Lac Megantic disaster in July, 2013, involving a runaway Montreal, Maine and Atlantic (MMA) freight train loaded with volatile crude oil that derailed and exploded, with 47 fatalities. Dr. Bruce Campbell, former executive director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and now Professor at York University, has published a new book “The Lac-Megantic Rail Disaster – Public Betrayal, Justice Denied”. Campbell is a long-time friend of Transport Action and our organization attended the book launch. He has written extensively about Lac-Megantic.

Although Transport Action’s mandate is passenger rail, the obvious connections with freight rail means that we monitor this field in such areas as infrastructure and safety.

The book tracks the events leading to the disaster, focussing on regulatory and policy decisions made by government, including deregulation, privatization, government austerity and neoliberalism. It fingers the introduction (2001) of the Safety Management System approach, which are developed and managed by the companies themselves and lead to reduced unannounced field inspections by regulators. However, the single largest failure was the Transport Canada (TC) approval (2012) allowing MMA to implement Single Person Train Operation, despite their very poor safety record.

The disaster followed a year later.

Campbell indicates that the response to the disaster has been weak. Only 3 low level employees were charged criminally, and found not guilty. A civil settlement of $460M was reached, well below actual damages. The Harper government passed the Safe Rail Act, which modestly increased insurance requirements for railways and modestly increased the number of TC inspectors.

Campbell alleges that political pressure on the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) resulted in a report that whitewashed the culpability of TC in allowing MMA’s repeated safety violations to go unchecked and allowing one person operations.

Today the situation is still worrysome. Railway incidents, including runaways, continue at a high level. Oil-by-rail movements are likely to increase. Vulnerable tank car (CP-1232) phaseout is not until 2025. The safety management system approach and fatigue management are the top two items on the TSB watchlist.

Campbell’s book is available from James Lorimer & Company Publishers. It is a fascinating read.

Oct 15

NEORN Continues to Advocate for Return of Passenger Rail Service

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Northern Ontario

Our colleagues at the Northeastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN) continue to advocate strongly that the Ontario PC government fulfill its promise to restore full passenger rail service to Northern Ontario.   NEORN has written an open letter to key Queens Park elected officials requesting a status update.  They have also updated all of the 90+ municipalities, First Nations and other stakeholder organizations that provided resolutions of support for the return of passenger rail.

 

The NEORN open letter to Queens Park elected officials can be viewed here: NEORN letter to Premier Ford-10.10.18

 

The NEORN letter to stakeholders can be viewed here:  NEORN letter to municipalities re Premier Ford final 10.10.18

Oct 10

Public Statement on VIA Rail Canada’s High Frequency Rail Proposal

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News

Background: After an analysis of available public information on VIA Rail Canada’s High Frequency Rail (HFR) proposal, Transport Action Ontario has issued the following statement:

Since our founding nearly 30 years ago, Transport Action Ontario (TAO) has strongly supported intercity passenger rail, as it provides many economic, social and environmental benefits to Canadians. The Windsor-Quebec corridor is the heart of Canada’s existing passenger rail system. TAO agrees with VIA Rail Canada’s ambition to triple the number of trains per day in the Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal-Quebec portion of this corridor, as well as improving on-time performance and reducing travel times.

One available option is VIA’s High Frequency Rail/dedicated track proposal (HFR). It envisions new dedicated northern trackage between Toronto-Ottawa (using the partially abandoned Havelock line)
and between Montreal-Quebec (using north shore trackage accessed through the Mt. Royal tunnel) , while improving the schedule on existing Lakeshore and South-shore routes. Maximum train speeds are planned as 160 kph.

The Federal Government (Transport Canada) is currently evaluating this and other proposals to add passenger rail capacity in this corridor.

TAO has met with VIA’s senior planning staff to discuss HFR and has analyzed the limited publicly available information on HFR, as well as other relevant comparable projects. We endorse VIA’s HFR objective, particularly the strategic benefit of dedicated tracks for passenger service. This benefit can be maximized if long segments of dedicated track are combined with increased attention to timely operation of passenger services where co-use with main line freight operations is required. We also concur with VIA that operation at typical “high speed rail“ speeds (250 kph+) has a poorer cost-benefit ratio than VIA`s proposed speed.

TAO looks forward to a fulsome public review of the details of HFR. Particularly important is a discussion on securing access to the Mt. Royal tunnel in view of the Montreal REM transit project and a discussion on the best planned maximum train speed (160 vs 200 kph).

We urge the Federal Government to move forward promptly and commit to boosting passenger rail frequencies, speeds and on-time performance in this corridor.

We also look forward to working with all stakeholders, especially VIA and Transport Canada, on how to achieve improved passenger rail service in the entire Windsor-Quebec corridor, including Southwestern Ontario.

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