Category Archives for "Southwestern Ontario"

Jul 02

Federal Study of Southwestern Ontario Passenger Rail Enhancement – second update

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

As described in our first post (September 30, 2022), a federal study on passenger rail enhancements in southwestern Ontario is underway. In November, it was announced that CPCS Transcom, in association with WSP, will act as external advisors, with a report due by end 2023.

Following months of little public activity, three important events occurred in the last week of June, 2023:

(a) Minister Alghabra held the long-promised ministerial roundtable with stakeholders. Although attendance was limited to mayors and wardens, Transport Action Ontario prepared a briefing package that was circulated to these attendees ahead of time, giving our take on benefits of rail, concern areas and what municipalities need to ask for. The package is attached below.

(b) Following the roundtable, Minister Alghabra and new VIA President Mario Peloquin announced the return of Trains 82/83 in Fall, 2023, assuming track access agreements can be negotiated with CN and Metrolinx. We have previously learned that negotiations between CN and CIA on track access in general have not been going well. Therefore we welcome the Minister’s commitment that “we will support VIA in whatever they need to make sure that it happens”.

(c) Transport Action representatives also met with CPCS on June 29. We had earlier submitted a briefing note to CPCS covering our material previously sent to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. These included rail infrastructure recommendations and developing London as a hub for high frequency rail in southwestern Ontario. The briefing package is attached below. We learned that the scope of work for CPCS is consistent with previous plans, namely:

  • Focus on Burlington to London, Windsor and Sarnia (ie Kitchener line not included)
  • Study increased service on existing CN infrastructure, with existing station locations
  • Develop 3 service scenarios, with the best being hourly London-Toronto. This is consistent with our recommendations.

Improved passenger rail is vital to southwestern Ontario. Transport Action will continue to be very involved with both this federal study and the Ontario study.

Jun 26

Reinstating VIA Trains 82/83 – Demonstration in Brantford, ON

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

Transport Action Ontario (TAO) participated in a well-attended demonstration in Brantford on June 24, 2023 concerning reinstatement of VIA Trains 82/83, key commuter-oriented trains connecting to/from Toronto.  We spoke to several elected officials and municipal staff.

Conservative MP Larry Brock was frustrated that former VIA CEO, Martin Landry had stated there was no equipment and no crew to reinstate Train 82 after Covid. Larry considered this unacceptable and will continue to pursue the matter with the new VIA CEO, Mario Peloquin. He said that all inquiries to VIA’s customer relations department about Train 82 were usually met with “call your MP”. They did, so he saw the magnitude of the issue.

Brantford Mayor Kevin Davis was similarly frustrated as he had requested GO Transit to replace its bus with an early morning train because of congestion on Highway 403 and the Lincoln Alexander Memorial Expressway that often-made driving to Aldershot a 60-90 minute crawl. He stated it gets worse by the week because of the accelerating urban sprawl in Paris/Brantford and along the top of the Hamilton Mountain.

Both elected officials showed interest in working with TAO.  We also engaged with the Clerk of Brantford who indicated the city needed additional resources to drive the Train 82 issue. There were questions on High Frequency Rail but we advised it will be another 2 years before the project is confirmed and about 10-15 years before there are any services west of Toronto – in the event it proceeds.

There was excellent media coverage of the event.  We hope that other elected officials in southwestern Ontario  follow the example of Brantford with demonstrations, alliances and political advocacy, as this appears to be the action necessary to obtain improvements in these vital train connections.

Jun 05

MTO Southwestern Ontario Transportation Plan – Input to Technical Advisory Committee

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

As readers know, Transport Action Ontario (TAO) was very active in commenting, participating in meetings and making recommendations during 2020-2021 as Ontario consulted on its draft plan “Connecting the Southwest: a draft transportation plan for southwestern Ontario”. The final report was completed in late 2021 and submitted to the Minister of Transportation, but has never been released publicly.

In early, 2023, we were advised that a new MTO study lead by Arcadis/IBI was in the works covering a long-term (to 2051) transportation planning study for southwestern Ontario. We were subsequently invited to join an expanded Technical Advisory Committee, which held its first meeting in London on June 1, 2023.

TAO participated actively in the meeting, emphasizing our previous recommendations and adding some new ones on rail capacity in London, improvements to intercommunity bus services, connecting to national and provincial parks, highways and road safety and road pricing.

Our comments can be viewed in the attachments below.

Apr 16

Advocacy Summary for April, 2022 – April, 2023

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

Transport Action Ontario’s annual general meeting (AGM) was held in Toronto on April 15, 2023 in a hybrid format. The meeting followed a pro-forma agenda, including Treasurer’s report and election of officers and directors for the upcoming year.

The major part of the meeting was devoted to the President’s report, which summarized the extensive advocacy work undertaken by the organization all across the Province over the past 12 months. In total, work was conducted on about 30 items, with some successes and good progress on others.

For members and subscribers who were unable to attend the AGM, the President’s Report is attached as a FYI.

Oct 25

Woodstock station in need of repairs

By Transport Action Ontario | Southwestern Ontario

On August 30, 2022, funding was announced for much-needed repairs to several VIA Rail stations in Southwestern Ontario. Unfortunately, Woodstock was not one of the stations named for repairs, despite being a designated heritage station in in urgent need of attention.

Originally built in 1885 by the Grand Trunk Railway, the station was transferred to VIA Rail ownership in 1986, and extensively renovated in 1992. The station received a “City Beautiful” award in 2000, and up until the cuts of 2012 the station was staffed and well cared for, including repainting in the original green and white scheme of the Grand Trunk, which made it a beautiful and inviting gateway to the city.

Sadly, little work has been done on the exterior of the building since 2012. The condition of the station has deteriorated rapidly over the last few winters, once degraded paint allowed frost and salt to attack the underlying brickwork and timber. What could have been a job for a few buckets of fresh paint is now going to be rather expensive, and this will become exponentially worse the longer the station is left unloved. Tragically, it has also been largely abandoned by the City of Woodstock and the County of Oxford when it should be an attractive portal for commuters and visitors.

Condition of Woodstock station in 2015 versus 2022

While we recognise that, when the federal government does not fully fund VIA Rail’s requests for state of good repair budget appropriations, rolling stock and safety critical items must be prioritized, not fully funding station maintenance is a false economy on the part of the federal treasury that cost taxpayers a lot more in the medium term, while also deterring passengers.

Thankfully, not everything has been neglected. The waiting area inside the station has been recently repainted, together with updates to provide improved washroom accessibility. However, the digital display with train schedule information is positioned so that it can only be seen from outside the station door, and it cannot be read in daylight. The information board outside the station has the printed schedule covered over, possibly a measure taken during the pandemic. Signage inside or outside the station providing information on Woodstock Transit, Middlesex County Connect bus services and T:GO inter-community transit to Tillsonburg is non-existent, even though these routes were consciously designed by municipal leaders in the region to link up with rail.

There is no means of purchasing a ticket either, since the automated kiosks that were installed after the stations were de-staffed in 2012 have all been withdrawn, due to their payment processing systems becoming obsolete.

There is also a local map on display inside the station, which is helpful, because all stations should at least offer visitors some basic local information, but it dates back to 1999 so it is due for an update. The population of the city has grown by 25% since then, but its train service has not.

Meanwhile, the station flowerbeds have also been rebuilt with brick replacing timber, which seems like a lower priority than the masonry of the station itself, but this may have been an affordable project to improve the customer experience at the station that could be squeezed into the crown corporation’s severely constrained budget during the pandemic.

In addition to calling for repairs to this station, Transport Action is campaigning for increased train service frequency across southwestern Ontario, including in the short term the reinstatement of trains 82 and 83 between London and Toronto in the morning and evening, and for the existing afternoon train 76 from Windsor to Toronto call at Woodstock, providing an option for early evening arrival in Toronto.

More information about the history of the station can be found at: https://www.historicplaces.ca/en/rep-reg/place-lieu.aspx?id=4610&pid=0