Category Archives for "Intercity Rail and Bus"

Jun 30

Engagement with Southwestern Ontario Transportation Task Force

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

In January, 2020, Ontario released its Draft Transportation Plan for Southwestern Ontario, entitled Connecting the Southwest. It recommended several encouraging new actions supportive of improved passenger rail and regional bus services. However, progress on these actions has been largely stalled.

In March, 2021, the province established a Transportation Task Force consisting of mayors, chiefs and other stakeholders, chaired by Mayor Ed Holder of London. The Task Force is charged with providing recommendations to the government by March, 2022, presumably building and improving on the 2020 draft plans.

The Task Force convened a rail workshop on June 29. Transport Action Ontario circulated a presentation prior to the event and actively participated in the workshop with 3 delegates. The workshop went well, with good dialogue on the major issues/steps needed to boost freight and passenger rail in the region. We expect further opportunities for input as the Task Force moves towards a final report.

Our circulated presentation can be viewed below.

Jun 18

Transport Action urges Investment to Accelerate VIA Rail Project Delivery

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

Transport Action Ontario engages in frequent correspondence and dialogue with VIA Rail on many topics, usually related to delivery of various improvement and expansion projects. We have become increasingly frustrated with VIA’s incapability, likely as a result of federal actions and neglect, to participate in discussions on Canada’s sustainable mobility future and achieve the required transformational change.

We have written to the three federal Ministers of Infrastructure, Environment and Transport expressing our concerns and look forward to a meaningful reply from them.

Our letter can be viewed below.

May 27

Ontario Releases Initial Business Case for “Northeastern Passenger Rail” – Statement

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

Transport Action welcomes the long-awaited Initial Business Case published by MTO and Ontario Northland. We are encouraged that the Government of Ontario plans to move forward with the restoration of passenger rail service between Toronto, the Muskoka region, and Northeastern Ontario based on the clear social equity need for this service and whole-economy spin-off benefits for the north.  However. we note that “a potential in-service date in the mid 2020s” is well behind the election promises made by the government. We urge the Province to move ahead promptly on the many key steps still needed for implementation. 

In order to move swiftly to implementation, MTO must robustly support the negotiation of a train service agreement with CN for operations between North Bay and Toronto. We had hoped to see such an agreement concluded by this stage, with known costs for necessary additional passing tracks or upgrades. As noted in the IBC, an agreement that protects on-time performance and ensures punctual train meets should reduce the need for costly additional infrastructure, as well as being vital to the passenger experience.

The proposed service integration with Ontario Northland’s bus network will ensure that the train improves the level of service for communities across the northeast and will serve as a best-practice example to other Canadian regions.

Tourism revenues that would be attracted by a high-quality service are not analysed in the report, but would represent millions of dollars in whole-economy benefits and a significant boon to northern Ontario businesses. Domestic tourism within Canada is likely to be strengthened in the next couple of years as families seek alternatives to long-haul travel, and once international travel resumes the global market slow-travel opportunities involving rail travel, cultural heritage, and outdoor pursuits is likely to rebound strongly, attracting a high-spending early-retired demographic.

The report does not address the selection of rolling stock in any detail, although it mentions the possibility of a cab car for bidirectional operation, which may have limited additional utility on a long-distance service of this nature, unless the train reverses at Timmins to continue to Cochrane.

Rolling stock procurement is a critical step in service delivery, and with order books full at most north American car builders, a more proactive approach by the government to securing new equipment would have paid significant dividends. It may be possible to accelerate the timeline for service restoration by leasing equipment in the interim until brand new cars can be ordered and delivered.

Selection of suitable new rolling stock will be critical to the long-term success of this service. In addition to providing affordable seats and accessible accommodation, the rolling stock should also offer a service level suited to the tourism market, which means good all-round visibility, sleeping accommodation and decent catering. The suggestion of a “no amenities” service level in the initial business case is concerning, morning coffee being the least Canadians are going to expect on an overnight train. After making the investment to get the train running, going cheap on amenities would seriously inhibit the success of the service.

The equipment must also ride well across the range of track conditions in northern Ontario. A common complaint about the rebuilt single-level commuter cars used prior to 2012 was that ride quality was highly variable, which caused mobility impaired passengers difficulties moving about the train for refreshments or to the washrooms.

With both Amtrak and VIA Rail in need of new long-distance equipment in the current decade, and Amtrak being likely to select single-level design due to accessibility requirements, there is an opportunity to develop a new generation of single-level overnight and long-distance equipment. Leadership on this file by the governments of Ontario and Canada would increase the chances of a share of that work being conducted in Thunder Bay.

Northeastern Passenger Rail Service Initial Business Case

GO Train at Bloor station. Photo by Sally Hewson.
May 03

Improving and Expanding Service on Kitchener GO Line

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Uncategorized

One of the prime transportation objectives of the Ontario government is to establish 2-way all-day GO service from Toronto to Kitchener along the so-called Innovation Corridor. The recent Provincial budget explicitly discussed progress on a second tunnel under Highways 401/409 and progress on procurement this year of additional tracks and new platforms.

The current operation provides limited service to Kitchener.  Metrolinx has now released the Preliminary Design Business Case (PDBC) defining the infrastructure requirements, costs and benefits of reaching the provincial objective.  For the inner portion of the line (Weston Sub), the approved GO Expansion project will provide adequate infrastructure.  However, on the Bramalea – Georgetown portion (Halton Sub), additional track and potentially a rail-rail grade separation will be needed to allow shared use with CN Rail. On the Georgetown – Kitchener portion (Guelph Sub), passing tracks will need to be added on this single track line.  Capital cost is estimated at $1.3B – 1.7B PV, roughly within the provincial funding envelope.  It is also encouraging to note the apparent cooperation between CN and Metrolinx on this project.

The PDBC also mentions other potential future enhancements, such as a direct connection to Pearson Airport, electrification beyond Bramalea and service extension to Southwestern Ontario. Transport Action will continue to monitor this strategic project closely.

The full report is available online: Kitchener GO Rail Service Expansion – Preliminary Design Business Case

Photo of GO Kitchener Line train at Bloor station by Sally Hewson.

Apr 26

Briefing Paper on US-Canada Passenger Rail Connections

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

There is increasing recognition on both sides of our border about the need for low or zero-carbon public transportation. This opens up opportunities for the growth of same-train passenger rail services between Canada and USA.  Canadian Minister of Transportation  Alghabra and US Transportation Secretary Buttigieg talk frequently, and Amtrak has recently proposed a new Chicago-Detroit – Toronto service. Non government organizations on both sides of the border are developing ideas to bring forward. 

Transport Action Ontario has issued a briefing paper on our ideas on advancing US-Canada passenger rail connections. The paper covers:

  • Reasons to Improve Passenger Rail Service
  • Corridors of Opportunity
  • Service Concepts 
  • Existing Canada/Ontario Initiatives to Build Upon
  • Making it Happen

The paper can be viewed below:

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