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Jun 17

VIA Rail “Fireside Chat” with London Mayor Ed Holder

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

On June 15, the Canadian Club of London hosted a 1-hour virtual fireside chat between VIA Rai’s acting CEO Martin Landry, and London Mayor Ed Holder.  Transport Action Ontario (TAO) listened in and also submitted questions to be answered later by VIA.  Our colleagues at Rail Action in Lambton also attended.

There were few surprises in Landry’s remarks.  London is VIA’s 4th busiest station and VIA has invested $11M in it since 2019.  London is in a sweet spot for population density and distances.  Other remarks included:

  • VIA recognizes that not all train service has been restored to pre-pandemic levels, including Trains 82/83 round trip through Brantford and Trains 85/88 through Stratford.
  • Most of VIA’s ridership resumption is leisure travelers.  They are hoping for more business travel increase in the Fall when more train frequencies are planned.
  • The new fleet enters into service in Fall 2022 and the new reservation system will launch early 2023.
  • VIA is working with Metrolinx and CN on service improvements in southwestern Ontario.  In contrast to Toronto-Quebec City corridor, there are no opportunities for a dedicated right-of-way, hence VIA must leverage current infrastructure with the track owners.  VIA needs competitive travel speeds versus automobiles and reliable on-time performance.
  • VIA wants to transform London into a regional hub, which would therefore provide more scheduling options for all of southwestern Ontario
  • VIA is also aware of US interest on a Toronto-Chicago route, and are collaborating with Amtrak
  • In response to a question about a late night departure from Toronto to accommodate sports/theatre attendees,  Landry indicated that new frequencies would have to be provided by the track owners.

Mayor Holder also made some interesting remarks:

  • As chair of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Task Force, and working closely with other regional mayors such as Mayor Bradley(Sarnia), he is very aware that passenger rail is a huge issue in the region.
  • London is the fastest growing Canadian city east of British Columbia.

In summary, the chat was a reaffirmation of information already out there and promised.   TAO will continue to vigorously advocate for passenger rail improvements in southwestern Ontario.

Jun 10

Multi-Stakeholder Support for Cayuga Short Rail Line Rehabilitation

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

            Short line railways, slated for abandonment as a cost-savings measure by Class I railways, represent business opportunities to municipalities. Although many of these lines face an uncertain future, some are being rescued and redeveloped as critical trade corridors to provide an attractive alternative to trucking and relentless highway expansion while producing significantly lower tonne/km emissions than road transport.

            CN’s Cayuga subdivision, a 50-km rail line once stretching from St. Thomas to Delhi, faced certain abandonment and demolition as rail freight traffic diminished. Despite provincial and federal government indifference, South Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation (SCOR EDC) , a regional partnership of 5 counties in the region, thought otherwise. Rapid industrial and residential growth in Elgin, Norfolk and Oxford counties required an alternative transportation solution to highways and their burden on municipal budgets and the environment. So did keeping the area competitive to investment that demands reliable, low-cost freight transportation options.

            Funding short-line restoration and maintenance requires cooperation by private, municipal, provincial and federal stakeholders.  After extensive research over two years on rail freight potential along the Cayuga subdivision rail corridor, SCOR EDC compiled a very robust Business Case Analysis.

The analysis found that industrial land served by a rail line had much higher market value than that served by trucking alone. Land value capture combined with reduced road maintenance, cleaner air and water have traditionally been disregarded when railways are sacrificed to highways. But corporate sentiment is now changing as environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors become priorities on new corporate investment checklists.

SCOR EDC also recruited GIO Railways to take over the operation and maintenance of the line.

            A critical element to the restoration and development of the Cayuga subdivision is funding under the federal National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF). Recently topped up with new money in the last federal budget, this fund is now available to short line railway projects that improve our national and regional competitiveness, create jobs and reduce emissions.

            SCOR EDC is now filing an application to NTCF for rehabilitation of the Cayuga line. In support of the application, the County of Oxford prepared a report “CN Cayuga Subdivision Short Line Rail Review”. This well-researched and robust document fully endorses SCOR EDC’s initiative.   Transport Action Ontario has also written a letter of support (see below).

            Transport Action Ontario (TAO) will continue to offer advice to SCOR EDC as their restoration and development of the Cayuga subdivision continues. This joins similar initiatives on the Orangeville-Brampton and Barrie-Collingwood short line railways.  

May 24

Southwestern Ontario Passenger Rail – Another Broken Promise?

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

Transport Action Ontario board member Ken Westcar has published an opinion piece on the confusing and seemingly uncoordinated federal and provincial statement on passenger rail in southwestern Ontario (SWO). There has been no apparent federal action on promises made in 2021 to improve SWO passenger rail, or responses to new Toronto – Chicago service proposed by the USA. Meanwhile the province has promised to invest $160M to improve service between London – Kitchener and Toronto.

Ken’s piece can be viewed below.

May 04

Ontario’s Budget 2022 – Transportation Highlights

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

The Ford government introduced its 2022 Budget on April 28.  As the Ontario legislature was dissolved one week later due to the upcoming provincial election, the budget was not debated or passed.  However, it does represent the election platform of the Ford government, and presumably will be re-introduced if the Progressive Conservatives win the election.

In the transportation area, the Budget has few surprises and largely represents a restatement of previous commitments.  Key items include:

  • Highways, highways, highways.  Although more funds are to be expended to public transit, it is clear that this government’s top priority is highways.  A total of $25.1B over 10 years is slated for “planning and/or construction of highway expansion and rehabilitation projects” across the province, including the construction of new Highway 413, new Bradford Bypass and widening of numerous other highways across Ontario.  No cost breakdown is given for these projects.   (Independent experts have estimated a construction cost of $8 – 10B for Highway 413).
  • Other driver benefits.  These include removal of tolls on Highways 412 and 418, removal of license fees, 5.7c/l reduction in gas tax from July – December, 2022, and changes in auto insurance rules to give consumers more choice and reduce fraud.
  • $61B to public transit over 10 years.  The cited projects are well known and have been costed out.  The key committed projects are GO Expansion (see posting on this website January 13, 2022 for details) and the 4 GTA subway projects (Ontario Line, Yonge North, Scarborough and Eglinton West).  All these projects are moving forward.
  • GO Milton improvements not funded.  Despite a federal commitment of up to $500M (50%), the Budget was silent on provincial matching funding to convert this busy line to all-day two-way service.
  • Transit Oriented Communities (TOC).  Agreements have been signed to build TOCs at 7 stations on the Ontario Line and the Yonge North Subway Extension to provide new funding sources for the province for construction.
  • New GTA Projects.  Continued planning on Sheppard East subway extension and on Eglinton Crosstown West extension to Pearson Airport.
  • Discussion of three extension projects for GO Transit:
    • Bowmanville
    • London, where the province is “proceeding with planning work and investment for track improvements to support implementation of faster and more frequent service” (no details).
    • Niagara, where the province “continues to work with rail partners” (no details).
  • Northeastern Passenger Rail.  $75M to support corridor, fleet and station upgrades for service between Toronto and Timmins, with a rail connection to Cochrane.  Although this is a good start, we note that this is insufficient to cover the full capital cost of $150M – $230M, as cited in the Updated Initial Business Case.
  • Shortline railways absent. There was no discussion in the Budget on preserving shortline railways, such as the Barrie-Collingwood or Orangeville-Brampton lines.
  • Coach Refurbishing.  $280M for funding to refurbish 150 GO Transit bi-level coaches in Thunder Bay and North Bay. 
  • References to the GGH Transportation Plan with 100+ actions and to the Northern Task Force that will “inform the government of the most important local needs”.

As readers know, Transport Action Ontario is deeply involved in most of these projects and will continue to closely monitor, support or oppose them, regardless of who wins the upcoming election.

Apr 26

Transport Action Ontario – Annual General Meeting April, 2022 – Summary of Public Portion

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

Transport Action Ontario’s (TAO) annual general meeting, held April 23, 2022, included a portion open to the public. This featured a guest presentation by Elizabeth May M.P., former leader of the Green Party of Canada. This was followed by a brief report by Peter Miasek, President, summarizing the organization’s advocacy efforts over the past year.

Ms. May discussed the importance of ground transportation (intercity rail and bus) to Canada, her Private Members Bill C-236 (“VIA Rail Canada Act”), VIA’s High Frequency Rail proposal and her efforts t for, a multi-party rail caucus in Parliament.

Mr. Miasek’s presentation summarized advocacy activities in the following areas:

  • Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail
  • Southwestern Ontario Passenger Rail and Intercommunity Bus
  • Greater Golden Horseshoe Public Transportation
  • Highway 413
  • Eastern Ontario Transit and Rail
  • High Frequency Rail
  • Other Federal Interfaces including VIA Rail

A copy of the presentation can be viewed below.

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