Jul 20

Orangeville-Brampton Railway – Rail+Trail Option

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

In May, 2022, Peel Region Council endorsed a plan to purchase the Orangeville-Brampton Railway (OBRY) for use as a trail. We also understand there are plans to remove the tracks.

Transport Action Ontario (TAO) has written to the Chair, Peel Region, urging the Region to hold rail removal in abeyance and to consult on a rail+trail option. There is broad agreement that this line has good potential for commuter and freight rail. Rails and trails can coexist well and are a proven option on many corridors. Based on experience in other communities, TAO is concerned that, if the track is removed, it will be difficult to re-install at a future date. It is preferable to keep the rails in place until they are needed.

Our letter to Peel Region is pasted below.

Photo: South portal of the Cal Park Hill Tunnel, with SMART track construction underway
Jul 05

Boosting Intermodal Truck/Train Freight to Reduce GHG Emissions (update from Transport Canada)

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

In November, 2021, just after the conclusion of the COP26 conference, Transport Action Ontario wrote to key federal ministers discussing the GHG reduction alternative of truck/train intermodal freight movement versus continued highway expansion and the need for federal involvement (e.g. publicly funded incentives) in what is largely private enterprise.

In late June, we received a lengthy, all-be-it largely generic, reply from Transport Canada. It updated us on the government’s approach to climate action. The Strengthened Climate Plan commits the government to working with rail stakeholders to accelerate technology development and implement commercially-ready solutions. Hopefully “commercially-ready” would include intermodal freight movement.

The Transport Canada letter is pasted below in italics:

UNCLASSIFIED / NON CLASSIFIÉ

Dear Mr. Westcar,

Thank you for your email of November 12, 2021, in which you shared with the Minister the views of Transport Action Ontario on the environmental elements that can be taken into account when making decisions related to our transportation system. Particularly, you mentioned the need for an expansion of truck/train intermodal services in the Montréal – Windsor corridor in order to support our climate commitments. My sincere apologies for the delayed reply.

Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is a key priority for the Government of Canada. During the Leader’s Summit on Climate Change, hosted by the United States on Earth Day, Canada committed to reducing emissions by 40 to 45% below 2005 levels by 2030 on the road to net-zero in 2050. This is a significant increase in ambition in relation to the previous commitment under the Paris Agreement. Canada has also tabled the Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act in the House of Commons, legislating Canada’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

To achieve these ambitious goals, the Government of Canada introduced in December 2020 its Strengthened Climate Plan (SCP), A Healthy Environment and a Healthy Economy. This plan builds on current efforts under the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change (PCF) to reduce pollution and support a healthier economy and environment through a number of new measures and $15 billion in investments. Building on these investments, Budget 2021 proposed $17.6 billion towards a green recovery to create jobs, build a clean economy, and fight and protect against climate change.

Clean transportation is a crucial part of Canada’s SCP, as the transportation sector accounts for 25% of Canada’s GHG emissions. For that reason, the SCP brought forward the commitment to work with rail stakeholders to accelerate technology development and pilot deployments, as well as supporting the implementation of commercially-ready solutions, among several other initiatives to decarbonize other modes of transportation.

In April of this year, the Government of Canada released its Emission Reduction Plan for 2030, in which we have committed to working with other levels of government, and in collaboration with key federal partners on additional emission reductions from transportation. Your views will support us in considering our next steps in this regard.

In your letter, you mentioned the Highway 413 project and its implications on our transportation infrastructure and its environmental impacts. As a federal authority under the Impact Assessment Act, Transport Canada anticipates participating in the impact assessment process for this project including providing advice and expertise in relation to our mandate.

Thank you for sharing your concern for tackling climate change and providing your views on ways the Government of Canada can continue to work towards reducing GHG emissions from Canada’s transportation system and improving the efficient and effective movement of goods.    

Sincerely,

Michelle Sanders

Acting Director General, Environmental Policy / Directrice générale par intérim, Politiques environnementales

Transport Canada / Transports Canada

Place de Ville, Tower C / Tour C

330 Sparks Street / 330 rue Sparks

Ottawa, ON K1A 0N5

VIA Rail COO Martin Landry and London Mayor Ed Holder
Jun 17

VIA Rail “Fireside Chat” with London Mayor Ed Holder

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

On June 15, the Canadian Club of London hosted a one-hour virtual fireside chat between VIA Rail’s acting CEO Martin Landry, and London Mayor Ed Holder.  Transport Action Ontario (TAO) listened in and also submitted questions to be answered later by VIA Rail.  Our colleagues at Rail Advocacy in Lambton also attended.

There were few surprises in Landry’s remarks.  London is VIA’s 4th busiest station and VIA has invested $11M in it since 2019.  London is in a sweet spot for population density and distances.  Other remarks included:

  • VIA recognizes that not all train service has been restored to pre-pandemic levels, including Trains 82/83 round trip through Brantford and Trains 85/88 through Stratford.
  • Most of VIA’s ridership resumption is leisure travelers.  They are hoping for more business travel increase in the Fall when more train frequencies are planned.
  • The new fleet enters into service in Fall 2022 and the new reservation system will launch early 2023.
  • VIA is working with Metrolinx and CN on service improvements in southwestern Ontario.  In contrast to Toronto-Quebec City corridor, there are no opportunities for a dedicated right-of-way, hence VIA must leverage current infrastructure with the track owners.  VIA needs competitive travel speeds versus automobiles and reliable on-time performance.
  • VIA wants to transform London into a regional hub, which would therefore provide more scheduling options for all of southwestern Ontario
  • VIA is also aware of US interest on a Toronto-Chicago route, and are collaborating with Amtrak
  • In response to a question about a late night departure from Toronto to accommodate sports/theatre attendees,  Landry indicated that new frequencies would have to be provided by the track owners.

Mayor Holder also made some interesting remarks:

  • As chair of the Southwestern Ontario Transportation Task Force, and working closely with other regional mayors such as Mayor Bradley(Sarnia), he is very aware that passenger rail is a huge issue in the region.
  • London is the fastest growing Canadian city east of British Columbia.

In summary, the chat was a reaffirmation of information already out there and promised.   TAO will continue to vigorously advocate for passenger rail improvements in southwestern Ontario.

Jun 10

Multi-Stakeholder Support for Cayuga Short Rail Line Rehabilitation

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

            Short line railways, slated for abandonment as a cost-savings measure by Class I railways, represent business opportunities to municipalities. Although many of these lines face an uncertain future, some are being rescued and redeveloped as critical trade corridors to provide an attractive alternative to trucking and relentless highway expansion while producing significantly lower tonne/km emissions than road transport.

            CN’s Cayuga subdivision, a 50-km rail line once stretching from St. Thomas to Delhi, faced certain abandonment and demolition as rail freight traffic diminished. Despite provincial and federal government indifference, South Central Ontario Region Economic Development Corporation (SCOR EDC) , a regional partnership of 5 counties in the region, thought otherwise. Rapid industrial and residential growth in Elgin, Norfolk and Oxford counties required an alternative transportation solution to highways and their burden on municipal budgets and the environment. So did keeping the area competitive to investment that demands reliable, low-cost freight transportation options.

            Funding short-line restoration and maintenance requires cooperation by private, municipal, provincial and federal stakeholders.  After extensive research over two years on rail freight potential along the Cayuga subdivision rail corridor, SCOR EDC compiled a very robust Business Case Analysis.

The analysis found that industrial land served by a rail line had much higher market value than that served by trucking alone. Land value capture combined with reduced road maintenance, cleaner air and water have traditionally been disregarded when railways are sacrificed to highways. But corporate sentiment is now changing as environmental, social and governance (ESG) factors become priorities on new corporate investment checklists.

SCOR EDC also recruited GIO Railways to take over the operation and maintenance of the line.

            A critical element to the restoration and development of the Cayuga subdivision is funding under the federal National Trade Corridors Fund (NTCF). Recently topped up with new money in the last federal budget, this fund is now available to short line railway projects that improve our national and regional competitiveness, create jobs and reduce emissions.

            SCOR EDC is now filing an application to NTCF for rehabilitation of the Cayuga line. In support of the application, the County of Oxford prepared a report “CN Cayuga Subdivision Short Line Rail Review”. This well-researched and robust document fully endorses SCOR EDC’s initiative.   Transport Action Ontario has also written a letter of support (see below).

            Transport Action Ontario (TAO) will continue to offer advice to SCOR EDC as their restoration and development of the Cayuga subdivision continues. This joins similar initiatives on the Orangeville-Brampton and Barrie-Collingwood short line railways.  

May 24

Southwestern Ontario Passenger Rail – Another Broken Promise?

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

Transport Action Ontario board member Ken Westcar has published an opinion piece on the confusing and seemingly uncoordinated federal and provincial statement on passenger rail in southwestern Ontario (SWO). There has been no apparent federal action on promises made in 2021 to improve SWO passenger rail, or responses to new Toronto – Chicago service proposed by the USA. Meanwhile the province has promised to invest $160M to improve service between London – Kitchener and Toronto.

Ken’s piece can be viewed below.

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