In late October, Minister of Transport Alghabra released the final report of the National Supply Chain Task Force, entitled “Action, Collaboration, Transformation”. It noted that there are longstanding structural and systemic weaknesses in Canada’s transportation supply chain and identified immediate and long-term solutions.
Transport Action Ontario and Transport Action Canada have written the Minister to endorse the report as a valid critique and solid base from which to act. We recommended more detail in several areas:
Preservation and reinstatement of strategic Canadian rail corridors
In April, 2022, Ontario released the last of its regional transportation plans – this one for Eastern Ontario. Transport Action Ontario (TAO) has reviewed this plan. In general, we find it to be long on ideas but short on specific actions. The highway-centric nature of most of the actions is a concern. TAO feels that more emphasis on public transit, intercommunity public transportation and freight rail is needed.
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.
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.
On August 30, 2022 Federal Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra announced a one-year study by a 3rd party advisor on enhancing passenger rail services in southwestern Ontario (SWO). The advisor will examine both near-term improvements and longer-term integration into High Frequency Rail. While this news was welcomed, our concern is that there have already been numerous studies on SWO passenger rail, and this latest study means that additional services are still years away. See our post on the Transport Action Canada website for more details.
One September 26, representatives from Transport Action Ontario (TAO) and Transport Action Canada (TAC) met with senior staff at Transport Canada to review the scope of the advisor’s work. The procurement document was posted on the buyandsell.gc.ca website on September 9, and can be viewed by searching for “T8080-220058”.
We learned that
Advisor will examine previous studies and welcomes additional input
Advisor will consult with Metrolinx to understand their plans for SWO and any track access issues
Advisor will largely focus on the South Main Line (Toronto – Brantford – London – Windsor) and London-Sarnia, recognizing provincial interest in the North Main Line (Toronto – Kitchener – London)
Advisor will contract with CN for it to assess what infrastructure investments are needed for 2-3 service enhancement scenarios
Advisor will develop demand forecasts, as that is needed for Business Case development
Advisor will be made aware of Amtrak Chicago – Toronto interest
Transport Action will continue to engage with Transport Canada staff on this issue. We have sent them material from TAO’s submissions to the province’s SWO Transportation Task Force that lists lower cost infrastructure improvement ideas. We also anticipate participating in a stakeholder roundtable to be held in early 2023.
On September 8, 2022, Bill 2, which amended the City of Toronto Act (among other things), was given royal assent at Queens Park. It provides that “the TTC may enter into an agreement with a municipality or local board authorizing the municipality or local board to operate, maintain or both operate and maintain part of a local passenger transportation system within the City”.
This is an important step forward for transit service integration in Greater Toronto. In February, 2022, the TTC and adjacent transit agencies (Brampton, Durham, Mississauga, York) unveiled a Cross-Boundary Service Integration Plan. Phase 1 involved pilot integration on two corridors – Burnhamthorpe Rd. and Dufferin St. The final phase (Phase 3) would be full “open door” rollout on all 24 cross-boundary routes wherein the 905 agency would provide all bus service within the City. TTC would reallocate its service to other areas in Toronto. This results in better customer service and annual operating cost savings of over $3M/yr.
Removing the legislative barrier in the City of Toronto Act was identified as a key step in the Plan and has now been achieved. Other key steps remain, such as implementing a fare collection solution with Presto on 905 transit buses in Toronto.