Category Archives for "Latest News"

Sep 23

London Free Press: Passenger rail aid good for economy and planet

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

Transport Action Ontario board member Ken Westcar recently published an opinion letter in the London Free Press.  While written as a private individual, the article concisely summarizes the views of Transport Action Ontario on passenger rail.  Our thanks to Ken for submitting the letter. 

 

Westcar: Passenger rail aid good for economy and planet

Ken Westcar, Special to Postmedia News

MP Kate Young, left, Via Rail president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, and MP Peter Fragiskatos announced infrastructure improvements at VIA Rail stations in London and Sarnia on Sept. 12. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

MP Kate Young, left, Via Rail president Yves Desjardins-Siciliano, and MP Peter Fragiskatos announced infrastructure improvements at VIA Rail stations in London and Sarnia on Sept. 12. (MORRIS LAMONT, The London Free Press)

 

September 12’s announcement that London and Sarnia Via stations will receive $2.55 million in upgrades is a small but significant step toward treating Canada’s intercity passenger trains as something more than a hobby.

It’s not entirely the fault of Via Rail, but a basic failure of successive governments to understand the importance of railway infrastructure and transportation in a large country like ours. Rapidly evolving social, economic and environmental factors dictate a need for change.

Privatization has allowed our major rail freight carriers to discard routes and rails that make no contribution to their bottom line. And it works, given the current price of CP and CN stocks. The need to “sweat the asset” — that is, to make the best possible use of their privately owned, capacity-constrained infrastructure by running longer trains — is why Via has often been pushed aside. Federal and provincial governments have generally taken a hands-off approach in the belief market forces should govern the people and freight transportation business.

Many of Via’s problems are therefore systemic. They’re not going to be an easy fix especially when the situation could yet deteriorate further.

The concept of building new passenger train-only routes is an option, but the cost and time required to get such services up and running is staggering. Planning, environmental assessments, land acquisition, litigation and construction could take 15 to 20 years. The idea that such projects could attract private-sector development capital is, therefore, doubtful.

The Sept. 3 edition of the Economist noted, “The (U.K.) government calculated that cost-benefit ratio for expanding rail capacity on existing lines was almost 50 per cent higher than for building HS2 (a new high-speed rail line between London-and Birmingham). For some improvements the benefits were eight times greater than the costs.”

This comparison might not be directly transferable to Canada, but it should give planners and politicians pause for thought. It also supports federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s logic that we need to progressively match increased capacity to demand growth to control costs while offering affordable fares, optimized schedules, punctuality and modern trains in place of Via’s rolling museum pieces. But are these just good words or intended actions?

The relationship between freight railways and senior government in Canada has never been warm and fuzzy. Regulatory burdens are an issue as well as frequent bureaucratic ineptitude. But many advocates of rail transportation believe government and industry must develop a win-win relationship that could boost freight capacity, safety and speed while accommodating needed upgrades to Via’s services. And the way to do this is to make existing rail infrastructure do more for everyone, including the environment.

The argument this is not possible is largely facile. Governments think nothing of pushing new highways across valuable farmland, through solid rock, across lakes and rivers, irrespective of technical challenges. The same thinking needs to be applied at federal and provincial levels when it comes to existing rail expansion.

It can be done incrementally with the removal of bottlenecks as a priority. Adding capacity, such as multiple tracking and improved crossovers, can follow. Progress can then match anticipated demand. Construction and regulatory lags will be much less than with a completely new route.

Applying new digital technology in the form of positive rain control or even more advanced systems would lift the rail industry out of its 1980s lethargy. Making Canadian trains faster, safer and more productive with fail-safe systems should be the goal.

Why? Because without a balanced passenger and freight transportation system our national economy and quality of life will remain impaired while our international climate-change commitments remain an embarrassing failure.

The idea Canadian government and industry can pursue a largely win-lose model belies the fact that most other G7 countries are already embarked on co-operative efforts to move people and freight more effectively by rail.

Attractive stations are always nice, as are grand plans. But, if you have to wait for hours for the next train and never be sure that you’ll reach your destination on time and at reasonable cost, they will be absent any meaningful public utility and remain just an expensive hobby.

Ken Westcar is a Woodstock resident.

Aug 31

Comments on Ontario Proposal for Intercity Bus Modernization

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

Ontario has been conducting public consultations on modernizing and appropriately regulating  the intercity bus regime to ensure it remains an attractive and affordable travel option for Ontarians.

Transport Action Ontario made a combined submission on behalf of ourselves, the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA) and the Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN).

The submission can be viewed here:  tao-busmodernization-2016-08-31

Aug 18

Strong Media Response to “Are We There Yet? The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

The Move the GTHA report “Are We There Yet?  The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”, released on August 16, 2016, was broadly covered by the Toronto and regional media, including at least 12 different print, radio and television reports.  One of the most detailed was in The Toronto Star, which can be viewed here:

https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2016/08/16/transit-renaissance-on-tap-for-gta-if-funds-found-report-finds.html

The report was also reviewed in Queens Park Briefing.   That important article, which speaks to the reaffirmation of the provincial commitment to transit,  can be viewed at the link below:

http://license.icopyright.net/user/viewFreeUse.act?fuid=MjMwNDMzMzg=

license.icopyright.net
Report from Move the GTHA reveals more than half of Ontarios planned transportation projects remain unfunded
Aug 16

“Are We There Yet? The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area”

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Major Reports , Urban Transit

The Move the GTHA collaborative, of which Transport Action Ontario is a key core member, has released its long-awaited report “Are We There Yet?  The state of transit investment in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA)”.   The report  details the progress to date in funding and building The Big Move 25 year rapid transit plan, and quantifies the large capital and operating/maintenance/lifecycle rehabilitation  costs that still need to be funded.   There are over 20 signatories to the report.
We are calling for a Transit Summit by early 2017 among all stakeholders to discuss funding.  The timing is good because (1) Metrolinx has just released their discussion paper on The Big Move  (2) the federal government is planning for Phase 2 of their infrastructure investment plan,    (3) some municipalities, including Toronto and York, want to have an “adult discussion” on new revenue tools.
 The report received broad media coverage, and a positive response from Queens Park.  These will be covered in subsequent posts.
Jul 27

Transport Canada Backs Away from Commitment to Sault Ste. Marie – Hearst Passenger Train

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

It has been over a year since the Algoma passenger trains stopped running.  The Algoma Passenger Train Working Group, including rail advocacy groups,  has come up with a proposal to run the service as a not for profit venture led by the Missanabie Cree First Nation with a Board of Directors representing the First Nations, municipalities and socio-economic stakeholders. The new Mask-wa Ootaban (Bear Train) will be more cost efficient while creating more employment and tax revenue.

The positive economic arguments became evident from a 2015 study undertaken by BDO Canada that conservatively estimates how the train creates direct and indirect economic activity in the range of 28 to 38 million dollars a year for the region’s severely challenged economy.  On top of that, the service supports 170-220 jobs, while generating those tax dollars that more than replaced the original yearly subsidy which was cut by the previous government thereby creating the whole problem in the first place.

After considerable community advocacy, the previous Harper government committed  to restore the subsidy for three years.  However, under the current Liberal government, Transport Canada has suddenly and without public consultation, backed away from this commitment, allegedly because the new proposal requests an on-going subsidy.  There is widespread public outrage on this decision.  The First Nation is approaching Carolyn Bennett, Minister of Indigenous and Northern Affairs, to request that she work inter-ministries to garner the required funding.

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