Simcoe County LINX Transit bus 6016 at Wasaga Beach, with destination board for Barrie Allendale GO station
Aug 25

Simcoe County’s LINX Transit System celebrates five years of service

By Transport Action Ontario | Community Transit

The County of Simcoe is celebrating a significant milestone as its LINX Transit service reaches its five-year anniversary. Since its launch in 2018, LINX Transit has undergone remarkable expansion, catering to over 700,000 riders to date and operating nearly two million kilometers in 2022.

The system is a good example of the kind of community transportation network Transport Action encourages, connecting residents across the 16 communities in the county, and to GO train and bus services at Barrie and Bradford.

The foundation for LINX Transit’s success was laid in 2017 when the Simcoe County council approved a five-year, $5 million initiative. Having now concluded their five-year launch plan, LINX Transit boasts an extensive network, with six routes traversing the county:

Route 1: Penetanguishene/Midland to Barrie
Route 2: Wasaga Beach to Barrie
Route 3: Orillia to Barrie
Route 4: Collingwood to Wasaga Beach
Route 5: New Tecumseth to Bradford West Gwillimbury
Route 6: Midland to Orillia

The network operates fully accessible buses, and the county also offer a LINX PLUS+ door-to-door accessible service for eligible residents, and for visitors who are registered for accessible service in another community. 

In a press release, Dennis Childs, the transit manager for the County of Simcoe, remarked on the growth of LINX Transit. “Since the start of LINX Transit, we’ve grown dramatically. Starting out with just four buses, we now operate more than 30,” Childs stated. “Thanks to the hard work of our operators, mechanics, and supervisory staff, we saw our ridership double in 2022, and we look forward to building up LINX Transit through our transportation master plan.”

A key feature of LINX Transit is its strategic route design, with stops at major hubs, including hospitals, educational institutions, and employment centers. This approach provides convenient access to essential services and job opportunities, fostering economic growth and improving the lives of the county’s residents.

Simcoe County is now in the process of updating its transportation master plan, which will incorporate a comprehensive transit review. With future growth and expansion in mind, this review will serve as the foundation for five-year and ten-year plans aimed at enhancing transportation connections between local municipalities. The county council is set to evaluate suggestions and proposals, with input from residents and key community stakeholders.

Local citizen advocates affiliated with Transport Action have written to request weekend and evening service on all routes, including Route 2 to provide a connection into Collingwood on weekends which should be a significant opportunity to grow ridership further. The extension of route 3 to connect with GO at Allendale Waterfront, and additional stops in Midhurst to access the county museum and other key destinations, were also suggested. We are awaiting a response.

County Warden Basil Clarke also emphasized the importance of LINX Transit, stating, “LINX Transit connects Simcoe County and provides our communities with affordable, reliable and environmentally responsible transportation to and from our major business, education and health hubs.” He further expressed the County Council’s dedication to nurturing the growth of this transit service, acknowledging its popularity and effectiveness.

London Mayor Josh Morgan meeting with Transport Action Ontario board members Ken Westcar, Tariq Khan, and Terry Johnson.
Aug 14

London should become a regional rail and bus hub

By Transport Action Ontario | Southwestern Ontario

London is the economic hub of southwestern Ontario; and should also be its mobility hub with frequent and reliable rail and bus connections throughout the region. This was the message shared by all when Mayor Josh Morgan met with public transportation advocates and researchers from Transport Action Canada on August 10, 2023.

The group discussed the need to revive the promised, but subsequently cancelled, improvement plans for GO services on the North Main Line through Stratford and Kitchener. The service is be cut in October with the province asserting that “infrastructure will no longer be available to maintain this service”. The facts supporting this statement are obscure, but it is known that the CN track between London and Kitchener is in extremely poor condition, with train speeds limited to 30 mph over most of the route, which is why the train current takes four hours to reach Toronto, 90 minutes slower than in the 1990s. At the last provincial election, Premier Doug Ford promised an investment of $120M to address this, providing a more frequent service to London on a more attractive schedule.

Transport Action has been campaigning for improved service on this route since the federal government directed VIA Rail to cut back services in 2011, an effort supported by the Stratford and District Chamber of Commerce and all communities through which the North Main Line passes. Together we must speak with a robust and strident voice to the Ford government about the vital importance of adequate passenger rail services, extending the strategy adopted by Kitchener to securing a provincial commitment for all-day/two way GO train services.

It is also hoped that ongoing studies by both senior levels of government will result in timely improvements in rail service in southwestern Ontario, in addition to the promised return of the morning VIA train, #82, to Toronto this fall. With all three levels of government working together, London’s station could become the nexus of rail, motorcoach, and intercommunity bus routes throughout the region, providing both reliable mobility and a safe, fully accessible, place to make connections.

Transport Canada has engaged CPCS Transcom to undertake a SWO rail capacity study, as promised by former Transport Minister Omar Alghabra in London last year. This study is expected to recommend investments to significantly increase VIA Rail services between Toronto and London on the route through Brantford. However, this has in indefinite timeline having been framed by the federal government as “phase two” of the slow-moving High Frequency Rail project. This delay is unnecessary, and Transport Canada should advance much-needed investment in southwestern Ontario in parallel with the Toronto to Quebec City project.

The provincial government has contracted Arcadis/IBI Group to work on an extension of the previous SWO Transportation Task Force Report covering all modes. The original report of the Task Force, chaired by previous mayor Ed Holder, has not yet been made public by the Minister of Transportation.

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 16

GO Transit – Extension to Bowmanville takes next steps

By Transport Action Ontario | Latest News , Urban Transit

The Ontario government has awarded a contract to Bowmanville Construction Partners (BCP), a general partnership between Ledcor CMI and Dragados Canada, to advance the planning to extend GO’s Lakeshore East rail service from Oshawa to Bowmanville (18.7 km extension). In 2022, Ontario had pledged $730M for this project. The planned service level is all-day two-way.

Due to substantial changes in the project since it was originally conceived in 2011, an amended Environmental Project Report (EPR) was required, and was unveiled at a public meeting in June, 2023. The project highlights were:

  • New alignment. Immediately east of Oshawa station, the extension will turn sharply north to cross Highway 401 and the General Motors spur line, using two new bridges, to connect to the CP Belleville Sub at Thornton Corners.
  • Construction of one or two new GO tracks in the CP corridor immediately south of CP’s single track. About 9 km of the GO line will be double tracked, allowing for ample opportunities for east-bound and west-bound GO trains to pass each other
  • Install wayside power at Bowmanville station so two trains can be stored overnight

The project has a couple of interesting features:

(a) Four new stations (Thornton Corners, Ritson, Courtice and Bowmanville) are planned, but are not part of the extension project. The Province is pursuing station construction to be delivered through its Transit Oriented Communities program, and active discussions are underway with local developers.

(b) Based on the drawings in the EPR, there are no planned connections between the CP and GO tracks. While this has the advantage of operational simplicity (neither operator affects the other), it greatly reduces flexibility during any incident such as a stalled train. Transport Action Ontario has recommended that “jump frog switches” be installed between the CP and GO tracks.