At a Council meeting on February 8, St Catharines City Council voted unanimously to request that VIA Rail restore effective train service to Niagara. Transport Action Ontario submitted a letter and presented a deputation to Council supporting this request. In our view, both VIA and GO are needed to fully meet Niagara’s needs.
ST. CATHARINES — City Council would like to see VIA Rail return its daily train service to Niagara.
On Monday night St. Catharines council unanimously approved a motion that urges VIA Rail and the federal government to restore “effective” VIA train service in Niagara. The motion, put forth by Coun. Bruce Williamson, comes after VIA officials have suggested it will invest in the national passenger rail service. Council is hoping VIA will reverse the decision it made in 2012 to eliminate the daily return service in Niagara.
“The existing rail infrastructure, including a climate-controlled station building and parking area, is already in place,” said Williamson, adding “Niagara is positioned favourably for growth and transportation links are vital ingredients for future prosperity and sustainability.”
Greg Gormick, a rail policy advisor with Transportation Action Ontario, told council the benefits would be “large” for the city, serving as a foundation for GO service. The two, he said, would complement each other.
“Is it VIA or is it GO for Niagara? It’s both,” said Gormick. “They’re two different types of services … really complementary services.”
Gormick and Williamson both noted there are economic and tourism benefits for the region, but the service would also provide a tie to the Empire Corridor, a designated high speed rail route between Niagara Falls, New York and New York City, and the Toronto-Montreal Corridor.
Mishka Balsom, CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce agreed, saying it makes sense to push for VIA service in addition to advocating for the GO expansion to Niagara.
“We need to take full advantage,” said Balsom, noting long-haul rail service should be an important part of any future Niagara-wide transportation master plan.
There are some positive signs in the midst of the request. With federal government promises to invest in infrastructure and transit, VIA Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said last fall the Crown Corporation would submit a $4 billion dedicated track plan for the busy Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor to the new government. The project would see the company build, acquire and restore tracks to increase the number of daily departures from each city to 15 from the current six. Also, during a 2015 annual public meeting, VIA officials said “VIA Rail is looking into the opportunity of increasing service in the Niagara/St. Catharines region in 2016. The potential in the area is for passengers travelling for leisure or as commuters.”
Williamson suggested the region could see VIA service reinstated before any type of regular GO service was provided.
“This is not a long-term plan and can become a reality in the short term for Niagara,” he said, describing it as a “no-risk, zero-cost opportunity”.
Mayor Walter Sendzik agreed with the concept, but suggested that VIA be requested to embark on a business case analysis. He said while there would be no cost at the local level, the funds do come at the federal level and “all of us in the region pay (federal) tax dollars”.
The city has also requested that other municipalities that were receiving service — Niagara Falls and Grimsby — be asked to pass the motion as well to strengthen the message.