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.