Category Archives for "Intercity Rail and Bus"

Woodstock VIA Rail station in summer 2023, with scaffolding in place for brickwork cleaning.
Apr 25

Delegation on Passenger Rail to Oxford County Council

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

Transport Action Ontario secretary, Ken Westcar, delegated to Oxford County’s council meeting on April 24, 2024 in support of elements of their 2023 Transportation Master Plan that included VIA Rail service improvements through Woodstock and Ingersoll.

Ken’s peer-reviewed PowerPoint presentation on behalf of Transport Action Ontario (TAO) was submitted in advance of the delegation and it was clear from the interest and responses that county councillors and the warden had studied it thoroughly in advance of the meeting.

VIA Train 76 stop reinstatement.

The presentation emphasised the need for a letter from Oxford County Council to Mario Péloquin, VIA Rail CEO, requesting a Woodstock stop for London to Toronto VIA Train 76 to partially fill a nearly nine-hour afternoon service gap from both Woodstock and Ingersoll. There was consensus that this gap severely disincentivizes VIA usage by Oxford County residents and visitors and acted as a brake on economic and community progress and wellness due to the increasingly congested and unreliable Highways 401/403 being the default mobility option.

Given that Train 76 could be one element of the proposed Toronto-Chicago Amtrak/VIA international service, it was agreed that Woodstock must be a stop to provide passenger rail access to and from the U.S. Mid West and beyond given that it is part of the industrial heartland of the U.S.A. and Canada where investment and talent are often shared.

Additional services and provincial cost-sharing.

Beyond the Train 76 stopping issue, discussion also extended to an aspirational “Train 74” service starting in either Windsor, Sarnia or Stratford, with early afternoon stops in Woodstock and Ingersoll, that would make VIA a very competitive option for travellers to/from Oxford County. Because of delegation time constraints, westbound services were not discussed.

The delegation dialog included the possibility of provincial financial support for these additional VIA services in southwestern Ontario (SWO) like state-supported Amtrak services in the USA. TAO’s position on this is that municipalities should engage with the province based on the very advantageous cost/benefit ratio available from incremental intensification of VIA services to the region. Given the provincial withdrawal of trial GO train services between London/Kitchener/Toronto, the concept has validity as the initial $160million originally committed by the province for this service and the ongoing provincial investment in maintenance and operations would likely meet or exceed the cost of the aspirational VIA Train 74 service.

Improved Woodstock VIA station aesthetics.

Further discussion took place on Woodstock VIA station aesthetics and its potential as a more attractive portal for Oxford County to reinforce its messaging on attractiveness to inward investment, quality of life and sustainability. Concern was expressed about the faded boxcar murals on the north side of the railway tracks and the freight traffic blocking effects when VIA trains are stopped on the primary east and westbound CN tracks. Solutions to these problems are possible and require further multi-party discussion.

Recommended actions.

While requesting a Woodstock stop for Train 76 is primarily an Oxford County task, TAO strongly recommended joint action by all VIA Rail-served communities (mayors, wardens and other stakeholders) to discuss with both the federal and provincial governments on affordable and readily achievable VIA schedule improvements. The primary drivers are regional population and industrial growth, rapidly changing demographics and over-reliance on capacity-constrained Highways 401/403.

A key element of this joint approach would be a southwestern Ontario (SWO) rail summit meeting staged in conjunction with the release of the ongoing federal and provincial studies to ensure that subsequent policies and investments are truly reflective of actual needs. TAO requested Oxford County’s support in arranging this after dialog with their peers in other affected municipalities. TAO would be a facilitator.

Conclusion.

Given the discussion intensity and positivity during the delegation, it is clear that the need for improved SWO passenger rail services is well recognised and of growing urgency to properly support the region’s economic and social prosperity and the constant drive for sustainability.

Photograph: Woodstock VIA Rail station in summer 2023, with scaffolding in place for brickwork cleaning.

Mar 27

Region of Waterloo Advances Cambridge GO Business Case

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

Post by Adam Mills, Director, Transport Action Canada

Region of Waterloo transportation planning staff has been consulting with the public on the Region-proposed Cambridge GO expansion initial business case that is being developed and will be released in June, 2024.

The initial business case (or IBC) is the latest step made by the Region in advocating for a heavy rail expansion into Cambridge, and follows Metrolinx’s IBC framework. Planning staff were joined by their consultant Hatch, whose team is notably led by Mark Sutherland who developed the framework during his time at Metrolinx.

The IBC contains a further narrowing of ideal options, including the removal of double-tracking in favour of the more attainable and cost-effective plan of passing loops. This would mean frequencies of up to 20-30 minutes, with a travel time of 15 minutes. It is hard to see how this might not be able to be exploited to achieve 15 minute frequency in the future. Planners also noted that trackage and therefore frequency could be expanded in the future with relative ease.

The proposed service would still run between Guelph and Cambridge with a timed connection to the Kitchener line.

A positive revelation from the presentations is that CN seems to be open to the plan, and will not be a roadblock to the development of rail service between the two cities.

Station Location

Another narrowed option, one that seems to limit the possibility of future expansion, is the selection of Pinebush ION station as the Cambridge station location. The reasoning is clear: Pinebush GO provides for more transit oriented development opportunity compared to the other ION accessible station location at Delta station in downtown Galt. The options were presented in the 2022 phase 2 feasibility study, whose results were endorsed by council when received.

There are a few concerns that should be addressed when it comes to the station’s location. The prospect of future expansion was not considered in the 2022 study. Many questions were asked of the planners about how a dead-end station at Pinebush would allow for future rail expansions in Southern Ontario such as connections to Paris and Brantford, and even directly to Hamilton along the Highway 8 corridor. So far there don’t appear to be any answers. As this is an initial business case, options presented should not be overly limited. Perhaps if local politicians were told that the reason why transit can’t better serve a neighbourhood is because of aversion to development, they may be more open to support development in existing neighbourhoods and create more vibrant downtown areas that are easily served by regional transit. One could easily see how Metrolinx or the provincial government could give support to the project in exchange for allowed development changes in places asking for transit expansion.

Start with Buses

Another popular question at the 3 meetings was about what the Region is doing to secure a transit link of any sort between Cambridge and Guelph seeing as none exist currently. Planning staff indicated that it hadn’t really occurred to them in the planning of the project, but that a bus link in the meantime makes sense. Staff also said that the Region would approach Metrolinx to establish a bus service, and barring that, would be open to working with Guelph or even solo to ensure a link between the cities. Demand analyses conducted during the development of the project has shown that Cambridge-Guelph bus service would have healthy ridership.

The lack of consideration of bus options betrays an all-too-common rail and infrastructure bias that many of us are guilty of. Expanding mass transit is more than just new rail lines, it also includes expanding bus services across the province, the ridership of which can inform future needs and opportunities for higher-capacity forms of transit like regional rail. Many transportation planners suggest this ‘service first’ approach to transit development. One good example is the Kitchener-Toronto GO bus service which has helped to create large demand for Kitchener line expansion. It can be hard to justify a rail line when there is not already a transit service along the route.

Rolling Stock

The options for what might run along the new line aren’t limited at all, with planners preferring battery electric multiple units (BEMUs), but also noting the diesel multiple units (DMUs) or even standard GO bi-level cars would be possible for the service. Planners did note the desire for smaller trainsets to limit the cost of any new stations. The plan presented at the Guelph and virtual meetings suggested that maintenance would be done at Willowbrook yard in Etobicoke meaning any rolling stock would have to be able to make the journey down the Kitchener line for maintenance. At the third meeting, attendees noted that a planner said a maintenance facility along the line would be considered.

In a future ideal world, a one-seat ride would be enabled through a rolling stock option that can connect to Toronto-bound trains at Guelph providing a seamless Cambridge-Toronto trip. One can dream right?

Cost

A troubling part of this new advancement is the escalation of costs. Since the last study in 2022, projected costs for each option have ballooned by an average of 200%. The project planners were reluctant to make any statement regarding costs and did not directly address any questions regarding what has or could be done to limit costs and increase the possibility of the project being built.

Conclusion

While this effort is a hopeful attempt at advocacy by the Region, and contains some best practices such as EMUs and strategic infrastructure investments, the cost, limitations to future expansion (caused in part by the lack of densification in Cambridge), and lack of a pre-existing transit connection all could lead to reasons why Metrolinx and the province might not choose to fund this project. These are all concerns that can be addressed by Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo. What is clear is that more pressure on local politicians is needed. The plan needs support from Cambridge city council and the local MPPs who both happen to be in the PC caucus but have been absent on any Cambridge GO advocacy.

The consultation presentations are attached to this post.

A Region of Waterloo survey is open until April 5th

Feb 15

Rethinking Rail Discontinuance Policies – Rail Bank Needed

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

The loss of rail corridors in Canada, due to service discontinuances by CN, CP or short line owners or operators continues to be a serious problem. Recent examples in Ontario include the Orangeville-Brampton Railway (OBRY) and potentially the Barrie-Collingwood Railway (BCRY). Loss of these corridors affects supply chain redundancy and potential future re-use for freight or passenger movement.

Transport Action Canada and Transport Action Ontario have written Federal Minister of Transport Rodriguez urging a rethink of Canada’s rail discontinuance policies, including establishing a formal rail ban, as in many US states.

Our letter can be viewed below.

A CN freight train carrying comdities to export leaves Jasper while VIA Rail's Canadian makes its station stop.
Feb 05

Federal Consultation on National Supply Chain

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus

The federal government is conducting consultations on regulatory changes to improve Canada’s national supply chain. Transport Action Ontario and Transport Action Canada had previously jointly submitted comments in October, 2022 (see posting on this website) on the final report of the National Supply Chain Task Force, endorsing that report as a valid critique and solid basis from which to act. For this latest consultation, we have reiterated those points and updated them.

Our submission can be viewed below:

Jan 26

Submission to Ontario 2024 Budget Consultation

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

The Ontario government is conducting public consultations leading up to its 2024 Budget, expected in March, 2024. Transport Action Ontario has made a written submission on public transportation needs, with eight recommendations:

  • Make Community Transportation Grants permanent
  • Use a partnership approach on regional passenger rail outside the Greater Golden Horseshoe
  • Work with CN to upgrade track for new “Northlander” train
  • Support shortline rail with track maintenance tax credit
  • Introduce provincial banking of discontinued rail corridors, i.e. “rail bank”
  • Do a deep dive into capital costs and procurement model for rapid transit in Ontario
  • Cancel Highway 413
  • Scope new revenue tools for municipal government, and on congestion/road pricing

Our submission can be viewed below.

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