Mar 20

Hamilton LRT Project Update

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

Our earlier posting of December 18, 2019 expressed our disappointment with cancellation of this LRT project. Since then, we have continued to be active on this file. On December 31, 2019, we wrote the Auditor General of Ontario expressing our concerns with the rationale and process of cancellation. We had a productive meeting with the Auditor General in February, and are hopefully that they will act on our concerns. Our letter is attached.

As part of the cancellation announcement, the Province stated it was still committed to a investment of $1 billion towards future transit and transportation in Hamilton. A Task Force was set up in January to recommend how this funding is to be used. According to media reports, the Task Force reported back to Minister Mulroney on March 16, but the report will not be made public at this time. Stay tuned!

Mar 14

Audit of Scarborough Subway Extension (SSE) Decision Making

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

As readers know, the 2019 Provincial Budget re-introduced a 3-stop subway extension project for Scarborough. Transport Action Ontario has long expressed concerns about the SE, and felt that other alternatives, such as Smart Spur, need to be studied. See our most recent post of April 7, 2019.

In February, Metrolinx published a Preliminary Design Business Case for the SSE. Remarkably, the business-as-usual case considered for comparison was a surface bus network that has never been proposed by anyone!

Transport Action Ontario has written the Auditor General of Ontario expressing our concerns that no proper Initial Business Case has ever been undertaken for this project. This would involve a proper apples-to-apples comparison of 5 alternatives:

  • Upgrading the existing Scarborough Rapid Transit with new vehicles
  • 7-stop LRT, as proposed in 2007
  • Smart Spur in conjunction with GO Expansion, as proposed in 2015
  • One-stop underground subway, as proposed in 2016
  • Three stop underground subway, as proposed now

Our letter to the Auditor General is attached. We look forward to a response.

Mar 14

Does VIA Rail’s Survival Depend on an new Route through Ontario and Quebec?

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus

In an excellent series of articles, Global News has explored the challenges facing VIA Rail. The article linked below discusses primarily the Windsor-Quebec City corridor, and VIA’s High Frequency Rail proposal. It features a lengthy interview with Terry Johnson, president of Transport Action Canada and vice president of Transport Action Ontario.

Well worth the read!

Here is the link: http://globalnews.ca/news/6635203/via-rail-survival-hfr/

Feb 27

Temporary Reprieve for Huron Central Railway

By Transport Action Ontario | Uncategorized

According to media reports, there has been notable progress in talks between Genesee and Wyoming Canada and the federal and provincial governments on much-needed track maintenance funds.

An article from Northern Ontario Business, February 25, 2020, gives more details. It is pasted below, with thanks.

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Genesee & Wyoming Canada is postponing its end-of-March decision to chop rail freight service between Sault Ste. Marie and Sudbury, citing “notable progress” in talks with Ottawa and Queen’s Park on much-needed track maintenance funds.

Christian Richard, the chief commercial officer with  the Montreal-headquartered railroader told Sault Ste. Marie City Council on Feb. 24 that he’s seen enough headway in recent weeks that the company will defer their March 31 drop-dead date “as long as there continues to be positive signals.”

But it’ll only be a stay of execution unless the feds and the province can cobble together a $40-million package for track maintenance and safety upgrades to the 278-kilometre line.

In an update to city council, former Sault mayor Steve Butland, part of a task force seeking to preserve rail service, admitted to being “frustrated” and “disappointed” over the  past two years with their inability to secure government funding in a timely fashion.

But he and fellow former mayor Joe Fratesi sounded upbeat in coming out of two “productive” meetings with federal associate finance minister Mona Fortier and senior bureaucrats in Ottawa on Feb. 6, and with provincial transportation minister Caroline Mulroney and various ministry staff in Toronto on Feb. 20.

Fratesi believes they raised the level of awareness in impressing upon them the importance of the railroad to the region’s economic vitality.

“We think both levels of government are viewing this, not as a hand out but as an investment,” he said.

The rail line services Algoma Steel in Sault Ste. Marie, Domtar’s pulp and paper plant in Espanola and EACOM’s sawmill operation in Nairn Centre.

It’s the third time in a decade Genesee & Wyoming has threatened to drop freight service over the condition of the tracks, and the third time Fratesi has dived in to broker a deal between the rail carrier and the government.

The line is owned by CP Rail but it doesn’t contribute toward track maintenance. Genesee & Wyoming inherited that responsibility when they were contracted to take over operations in 1997.

Genesee & Wyoming Canada said it invests 12 per cent of revenue generated from the Huron Central back into capital projects every year. 

But the company insists there’s not enough freight volume there to pay for the repairs and upgrades needed, including for new federally-mandated level crossings. 

The loss of the line would jeopardize 45 railway jobs at the Huron Central, likely 200 with EACOM, and 500 jobs at Domtar, as well as threatening the future of those north shore communities.

“If Northern Ontario is to survive and grow,” said Fratesi, “important infrastructure such as this railway needs to continue to be invested in by both levels of government.”

Fratesi said he further impressed upon the politicians and bureaucrats that their recent public investments into industries like Domtar’s Espanola operations and Algoma Steel would be for naught if those operations were adversely impacted.

For Domtar, rail is the primary mode of moving their specialty paper products to market.

Fratesi said transferring freight for all these industries onto the highway would be the equivalent of putting 45,000 transport trucks on the road annually, an option that would be cost prohibitive nor desired from an environmental perspective.

Further complicating their lobbying efforts has been the timing of the federal and provincial elections; followed by the sale of the Huron Central’s ultimate parent company, Connecticut-based Genesee & Wyoming, to Brookfield Infrastructure Partners last summer; and a delay in finalizing that sale due to a lengthy regulatory review by the U.S. Surface Transportation Board.

On the federal funding side, investing in short line railroads doesn’t fit the criteria of any of Ottawa’s transportation infrastructure programming.

And provincially, the Ford government has been exploring alternatives other than Genesee & Wyoming. 

Sudbury rail services company, Diesel Electric Services, told Northern Ontario Business they’ve been approached by provincial cabinet ministers Greg Rickford and Vic Fedeli to gauge their interest in working with the Crown-owned Ontario Northland Transportation Commission in running freight and passenger services on that line.

In what’s become a buck-passing exercise between governments, Fratesi said he’s made it clear to both parties that their involvement in saving the freight service is conditional on each other cooperating.

Some online public criticism has surfaced over taxpayer dollars being spent to subsidize a deteriorating line operated by an otherwise profitable rail carrier. 

But Fratesi argues this potential government investment should be viewed no differently than any other mode of vital transportation infrastructure such as highways, airports and harbours. 

While there are no guarantees Genesee & Wyoming won’t be back asking for more money at a later date, Fratesi informed council he knows of two new industries that would set up shop along that line if the Huron Central were to continue operating

Photo: Huron Central train in Massey, Ontario – P199 via Wikimedia Commons

Jan 31

Input to Ontario 2020 Budget Consultations

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

The Ontario government is asking for public input into Budget 2020. Transport Action Ontario has made the following submission, focussing on the public transportation sector.

Northern Ontario

  • Provide funding to implement the Ontario Northland and Metrolinx study on passenger train and bus renewal in Northern Ontario
  • Work with the federal government to save the Huron Central Railway, ideally under Ontario Northland management

Southwestern Ontario

  • Provide funding to initiate firm steps to implement some of the Action in the recently released draft transportation master plan.  Particularly important are concrete steps on Actions 6 to 8, which deal with improving passenger rail on existing rail corridors owned by freight rail companies.  Work needs to be initiated with the freight rail companies and with VIA Rail.

Urban Transit

  • Increase the gas tax share directed to urban transit.  This had been promised by the Ford government during the election campaign, but was not kept.
  • Initiate a study to permit Ontario municipalities to use new revenue tools, such as a piece of the provincial sales tax, a land-transfer tax, or authority for road tolls, to fund critical infrastructure such as public transit or roads.
  • Develop a program to subsidize transit fare integration in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas in order to reduce two-fare walls between agencies like TTC-GO and TTC-York Region Transit.

General

  • Include environmental and climate change considerations when reviewing transportation modal options.  Any provincial transportation proposals are then more likely to meet with broader public approval.
  • Expand the highly-successful Community Transportation Grant Program and improve regional coordination/planning/oversight and shared service models.  See our letter to Jeff Yurek (Minister of Transportation at the time) of February 4, 2019 and re-sent to Minister Mulroney in July.
  • Expand the HOT lane program on Ontario expressways.

Photo: Daniel Vorndran

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