Category Archives for "Intercity Rail and Bus"

Feb 27

Temporary Reprieve for Huron Central Railway

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

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

Jan 17

Draft Transportation Plan for Southwestern Ontario released by MTO

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

On January 17, 2020, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation released the report Connecting the Southwest: A draft transportation plan for southwestern Ontario. Transport Action Ontario is pleased that the plan has been released, as promised in the 2019 Provincial Budget.

The Province has also launched an online survey to gather feedback on the document.

Most of the plan’s 43 Actions deal with expansion or operations of highways and roads. As an organization focusing on rail, bus and transit public transportation, we will not comment further on those Actions.

We are encouraged to see the province taking the public transportation concerns of communities large and small across the region seriously, to reverse the decline of rural and regional mobility. Some of the Actions are province-wide programs or plans already underway. We support these programs such as the Community Transportation Grant Program, the Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program, Dedicated Gas Tax Funding for Public Transportation and Transit-Oriented Development of stations.

We are pleased that the province will be actively engaging with mayors in a Task Force to build upon the foundations that have been created by the Community Transportation Grants, and focusing on a regional bus network with a rail spine, as recommended in our policy research and reports.

The province is working to identify opportunities for incremental improvements to the existing rail corridors, which could swiftly deliver the more frequent and reliable passenger services that the region needs. It is imperative that these passenger rail improvements are for the benefit of the whole region, including additional services to Sarnia and Windsor.

We hope to see the federal government represented on the new Task Force and working alongside the province as an active partner in bringing about significant improvements that will make the best use of the increased capabilities of the new VIA Rail train fleet that will be arriving in 2021.

We’re encouraged by a focus on passenger convenience, and connectivity between rail and bus services. This is something people in this region have brought up frequently at our public meetings. It is also fundamental to maximizing the benefits to quality of life and minimizing the burden on the public purse.

Bus drivers and train crews are the backbone of a passenger friendly transportation network. They need fair wages and good working conditions to help them deliver outstanding levels of customer service, and that’s an issue we will be watching.

We look forward to seeing concrete steps to fulfill these Actions, including line items in upcoming Provincial Budgets. Inevitably, investment decisions will have to be made between highway, road and public transportation projects. It’s imperative that all investment decisions be evidence-based and incorporate broad-spectrum stakeholder consultation. All plans need to include a contribution to citizens’ wellness and full consideration of their health effects. Economic growth facilitation should not be based on monetary considerations alone but its positive effects on society in general.

Photo: Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney announcing Connecting the Southwest accompanied by Environment Minister Jeff Yurek, MPP for Elgin-Middlesex-London; London Mayor Ed Holder; Agriculture Minister Ernie Hardeman, MPP for Oxford; Consumer Affairs Minister Lisa Thompson, MPP for Huron-Bruce; and Bob Bailey, MPP for Sarnia-Lambton

Jan 01

Rural Transit Renaissance for Southwestern Ontario

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

After several years of patient lobbying by rural citizens, transit activists, and local councils, 2020 is set to be a banner year for rural transit in Southwestern Ontario. Many of the projects funded through the Community Transportation Grants will come to fruition, and new bus services are expected to be in place by summer 2020.

The Community Transportation Grants were first announced in 2018, but with the change of provincial government and lack of central support or coordination for procurement, some routes have taken longer to start up than others. The Leamington – Windsor service, which uses existing Transit Windsor buses, has been running since July 2019.

Without regional coordination of transportation planning, something we believe is most certainly needed for Southwestern Ontario, there is as yet no comprehensive route map and schedule database to illustrate the full scope of the services being funded and introduced, but it will include several of the routes previously identified as high priorities by Transport Action Ontario and the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance in the Network Southwest report published in 2014.

There were critical gaps in the projects that applied for the Community Transportation Grants, including St. Thomas – London, further illustrating the need for regional coordination, rather than a process dependent upon piecemeal grant applications, to maximize the social and economic impact of these investments, although the Mayor of St. Thomas is now requesting additional funding from the Ontario government to restore services on that route.

https://london.ctvnews.ca/ticket-to-ride-regional-bus-from-st-thomas-to-london-in-the-works-1.4733716

Here are the announcements for many of the new services funded by Community Transportation Grants:

Sarnia – London

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/london/voyago-to-operate-london-strathroy-sarnia-bus-service-1.5402461

Owen Sound – Guelph

https://www.owensoundsuntimes.com/news/local-news/kaspers-owen-sound-to-guelph-transit-service-to-start-jan-15

Tillsonburg – Woodstock

https://www.woodstocksentinelreview.com/news/local-news/oxford-inter-community-bus-service-to-launch-in-april

Stratford – Kitchener/London

https://kitchener.ctvnews.ca/bus-pilot-project-from-stratford-to-london-kitchener-and-more-set-to-launch-next-year-1.4604140

Leamington – Kingsville – Essex – Windsor

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/windsor/windsor-leamington-transit-route-1.5204505

Brant e-Ride (on-demand)

https://www.brantfordexpositor.ca/news/local-news/brant-to-offer-eride-service

Wellington County RideWell (on-demand)

https://www.guelphtoday.com/local-news/wellington-county-rural-transit-service-takes-to-the-road-1723716

Chatham-Kent adVANtage (on-demand)

https://familyservicekent.com/services/advantage-transporation/

These services join existing rural transit services in the region, including:

Four Counties Transit (West Elgin, SW Middlesex, Newbury, Eastern Chatham-Kent)

http://www.westelgin.net/residents/four-counties-community-transportation-service

Ride Norfolk

https://www.norfolkcounty.ca/transit/schedulesandmaps/

Chatham-Kent Inter-urban Transit

https://www.chatham-kent.ca/community-services/transportation/InterUrbanTransit

Nov 22

Extensive Media Coverage on Return of Passenger Rail to Northern Ontario

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

There has been extensive media coverage recently referencing the return of passenger rail to Northern Ontario and the business case that is currently being developed between Ontario Northland and Metrolinx. The plan is slated to be presented to the Provincial Government for decision making by the end of the year.

Given below are links to recent media articles.

Passenger Rail promise will be fulfilled

Reference to passenger rail transportation proposal and rail solutions for northern Ontario

https://www.northbaynipissing.com/community-story/9706884-trains-planes-and-buses-for-nipissing-on-fedeli-s-2020-to-do-list/

Revival of Passenger Rail from Toronto to Cochrane

https://northernontario.ctvnews.ca/mobile/bringing-buses-and-trains-in-the-north-up-to-speed-1.4683248?cache=?ot=AjaxLayout

Passenger Rail Plan Closed to Being Unveiled