Category Archives for "Latest News"

Mar 01

Scarborough Express Rail (SmartSpur)

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit


As readers know, Transport Action Ontario has long advocated for electrification of the GO Rail system and conversion to “surface subway-like” service.   Our advocacy started with our “No Little Plan” concept report of 2011 and then with the highly-detailed “Regional Rapid Rail” report of 2013.  We were very pleased when our ideas were largely adopted in 2014 in the  Province’s Regional Express Rail plan and the City of Toronto’s SmartTrack plan.


One of few areas not picked up by either the Provincial or City plans was our idea to construct an electrified GO Rail branch/spur line to Scarborough Town Centre, rather than an underground subway or a LRT line.  Over the past few months, we have been in ongoing detailed discussions with staff and elected officials at the City, and with staff at Metrolinx on this concept,  now known as Scarborough Express Rail or SmartSpur.


A series of frequently-asked-questions can be viewed here: TAO-SER-FAQ-2016-02

A technical memo covering various technical aspects of the concept can be viewed here: TAO-SER-TechMemo2016-02-29




Feb 22

Western Ontario Wardens Caucus endorses importance of VIA Rail

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


In a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau and Premier Wynne, the Western Ontario Wardens Caucus (WOWC) recognized the importance of VIA Rail to the economy and the vital role it can play in economic and environmental improvements.  The letter references key reports produced by Transport Action Ontario and its affiliates, including our  Network Southwest Plan, our submission to the Province on Modernizing Intercity Bus Services,  and Transport Action Canada’s VIA 1-4-10 Plan.


WOWC encourages a strategic partnership between the Federal Government, Provincial Government, VIA Rail and Metrolinx to develop an integrated multi-modal mass transportation model in the Windsor-Quebec City corridor.


The WOWC letter can be viewed here:  WOWC Letter to Trudeau&Wynne



Feb 10

Support for Expanding VIA Rail Service Toronto-St Catharines-Niagara Falls

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


At a Council meeting on February 8, St Catharines City Council voted unanimously to request that VIA Rail restore effective train service to Niagara.   Transport Action Ontario  submitted a letter and presented a deputation to Council supporting this request.    In our view, both VIA and GO are needed to fully meet Niagara’s needs.


The deputation and letter can be viewed here

TAO- St. Catharines VIA Presentation 2016-02-08

TAO St. Catharines Council Submission 2016-02-05


Given below is some of the press coverage that resulted:

St. Catharines requests reinstatement of VIA rail service

Council passes motion urging VIA, feds, to restore service in Niagara

By Scott Rosts

ST. CATHARINES — City Council would like to see VIA Rail return its daily train service to Niagara.

On Monday night St. Catharines council unanimously approved a motion that urges VIA Rail and the federal government to restore “effective” VIA train service in Niagara. The motion, put forth by Coun. Bruce Williamson, comes after VIA officials have suggested it will invest in the national passenger rail service. Council is hoping VIA will reverse the decision it made in 2012 to eliminate the daily return service in Niagara.

“The existing rail infrastructure, including a climate-controlled station building and parking area, is already in place,” said Williamson, adding “Niagara is positioned favourably for growth and transportation links are vital ingredients for future prosperity and sustainability.”

Greg Gormick, a rail policy advisor with Transportation Action Ontario, told council the benefits would be “large” for the city, serving as a foundation for GO service. The two, he said, would complement each other.

“Is it VIA or is it GO for Niagara? It’s both,” said Gormick. “They’re two different types of services … really complementary services.”

Gormick and Williamson both noted there are economic and tourism benefits for the region, but the service would also provide a tie to the Empire Corridor, a designated high speed rail route between Niagara Falls, New York and New York City, and the Toronto-Montreal Corridor.

Mishka Balsom, CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce agreed, saying it makes sense to push for VIA service in addition to advocating for the GO expansion to Niagara.

“We need to take full advantage,” said Balsom, noting long-haul rail service should be an important part of any future Niagara-wide transportation master plan.

There are some positive signs in the midst of the request. With federal government promises to invest in infrastructure and transit, VIA Rail CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano said last fall the Crown Corporation would submit a $4 billion dedicated track plan for the busy Toronto-Montreal-Ottawa corridor to the new government. The project would see the company build, acquire and restore tracks to increase the number of daily departures from each city to 15 from the current six. Also, during a 2015 annual public meeting, VIA officials said “VIA Rail is looking into the opportunity of increasing service in the Niagara/St. Catharines region in 2016. The potential in the area is for passengers travelling for leisure or as commuters.”

Williamson suggested the region could see VIA service reinstated before any type of regular GO service was provided.

“This is not a long-term plan and can become a reality in the short term for Niagara,” he said, describing it as a “no-risk, zero-cost opportunity”.

Mayor Walter Sendzik agreed with the concept, but suggested that VIA be requested to embark on a business case analysis. He said while there would be no cost at the local level, the funds do come at the federal level and “all of us in the region pay (federal) tax dollars”.

The city has also requested that other municipalities that were receiving service — Niagara Falls and Grimsby — be asked to pass the motion as well to strengthen the message.




Feb 05

“Let’s not forget the steel wheel in climate change” – Op/Ed piece in Hamilton Spectator

By Transport Action Ontario | Intercity Rail and Bus , Latest News , Press Releases and Open Letters



Transport Action Ontario board member Ken Westcar recently published the following Op-Ed piece in the Hamilton Spectator of  February 4, 2016.  It is reproduced below.   Our thanks to the Hamilton Spectator for publishing this article.


Let’s not forget the steel wheel in climate change

Rail service

Rail service

The Canadian Press

Ken Westcar argues upgrading existing rail infrastructure on the Montreal-Windsor corridor to permit 175 km/h speeds and more frequent service is one way to improve transportation in Canada.
Hamilton Spectator

Given that transportation in Canada is responsible for approximately 34 per cent of our carbon emissions it’s interesting to note how the media and two levels of senior government have tended to ignore it. Add the fact that carbon-intensive air transportation is ring-fenced due to its exemption from the COP21 Paris climate-change aspirations and one must wonder what actions will be taken on the ground to compensate.

So far, it seems there’s lots of excitement about electric cars and ride sharing but very little beyond this. Outside the GTHA the private motor coach industry wrings what profitability it can from a shrinking route network. Only in September 2015 did the province of Ontario invite public submissions on a new regulatory framework for bus operations. Whether buses can be restored as an appealing option of carbon-efficient transport for rural and intercity passengers remains to be seen.

Trucking has had very little mention in climate change discussions. The ability to haul dual 53-foot trailers behind a single tractor as a productivity boost has been in place for several years but one has to answer the philosophical question of whether a train belongs on the highway or the rails. Future ton/mile emission reductions will be increasingly hard to find as highway congestion worsens.

Canada’s woeful underinvestment in intercity passenger rail for the past 50 years or so beggars the belief of most of our G7 partners except, perhaps, the United States. But the voice of opposition in many U.S. states is changing to a more positive approach as communities push politicians for rail service reinstatements and expansion. The diminishing utility of the personal automobile for longer trips and increasing hassles of flying are being supplemented by greater concern about the environment and this is where the passenger train is seen as a more attractive and sustainable option.

Much the same applies in Canada where communities with existing passenger train service are starting to understand their value in a congested and carbon-constrained world. Bus feeder service to nearest railway stations is also receiving growing attention and rural public transportation advocacy is becoming focused and louder as personal hardship levels grow when the private automobile is no longer a mobility option.

While paper-progress is being made on the federal- and provincial-level plans for intercity passenger rail expansion, it is quite obvious that they are totally incompatible. On one hand, VIA Rail wants a new, freight-free route between Montreal and Toronto with higher frequency trains operating at about 175 km/h, whereas the province of Ontario is planning a true high-speed rail investment in the southwest with 320-km/h capability. A real head-scratcher!

VIA’s position has somewhat more economic and technical credibility than Ontario’s but neither seems to recognize that much of their ridership comes from intermediate stops along existing corridor routes. Communities such as Sarnia, Stratford, Woodstock, Ingersoll, Brantford, and Chatham are voicing concern that they could actually lose intercity passenger rail service under the current federal and provincial rail infrastructure plans. Neither level of government has yet provided them with any clarity whatsoever.

One solution, largely dismissed by governments, is the upgrade of existing rail infrastructure on current Montreal-to-Windsor corridor service to permit 175-km/h operation and more intensive schedules. Given that government relationships with both CN and CP have been challenged for several decades, any pursuit of this concept will not be for the faint of heart. But it’s precisely what Amtrak does in the U.S. to get more passenger trains onto existing privately owned rails.

If mutual accommodation can be found between CN, CP, and our two senior levels of government, an injection of public money could benefit all parties. In addition to accommodating more and faster passenger trains it could also be used to remove freight bottlenecks including construction of the “missing link” between the Milton GO rail line and the CN bypass line at Bramalea, west of Toronto. It would make passenger rail plans easier to achieve and speed freight movements across the top of the GTHA.

This and similar capacity improvements along the existing corridor rights-of-way could be implemented more quickly and at far less cost than VIA’s proposed new route and the provincial high-speed rail plans combined. The resulting speed increases with the high-performance solution would deliver the train frequencies, fares and journey times people want, while substantially reducing carbon emissions.

Under new climate-change realities, a public-private mechanism must be found for preserving Canadian rail infrastructure and making it more productive. Railways built Canada and are now, more than ever, a means to sustain it as we seek ways of reducing our carbon footprint while offering the public safe, economical and reliable mobility.

When economic and climate-change realities are stark it’s better to look at more immediate, astute and affordable improvements to passenger rail services. Grander plans can wait for better times.

Ken Westcar is a Woodstock resident and a board member of Transport Action Ontario, a public transportation advocacy group, with broad experience of passenger railway operations in North America, Europe, and Africa.




Feb 05

Passenger Rail and Bus in SW Ontario – letter to Transport Minister Garneau

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



The Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA), which includes Transport Action Ontario as a core member, has sent a letter to the Honourable Marc Garneau, Minister of Transport regarding our Network Southwest Passenger Rail and Bus Service Action Plan, requesting action.


The letter and key attachments can be viewed here:

SWOTA Letter to Marc Garneau 2016-02-05

SWOTA -Liberal Resolution 2014

SWOTA-Liberal Resolution 2012