August 1, 2017 — Time for Ottawa and Queen’s Park to get their acts together on rail passenger improvements

ST. MARYS, ONTARIO – By pursuing their own long-range studies and failing to coordinate their efforts, the federal and provincial governments are derailing vital rail passenger improvements that would benefit Southwestern Ontario quickly and at a reasonable cost.

“This situation is wasteful and bizarre,” says Chris West of the All Aboard St. Marys citizens’ committee. “We’ve got Queen’s Park spending $15 million on yet more studies of a Toronto- Windsor high-speed rail (HSR) mega-project that will cost at least $21 billion and can’t be completed until 2031, at the earliest. We’ve also got Ottawa contemplating a plan to buy much-needed VIA Rail motive power and rolling stock. If it’s not acted on soon, it will force VIA to curtail some of its services by 2020.”

All Aboard St. Marys also points out that provincially-owned GO is eating up scarce track slots by operating trains to Georgetown and Kitchener in competition with VIA trains that serve the same cities and continue west to Stratford, St. Marys and London. Sharing and coordinating the 34 current passenger track slots – 17 in each direction – in the congested CN freight zone between Bramalea and Georgetown could bring immediate benefits for both GO and VIA users.

Says West, “We don’t need any studies to start solving this problem. What we need is the two levels of government to get their acts together and empower VIA and GO to take action. There are other measures, such as having either GO or VIA buy the deteriorating CN track between Kitchener and London, that would generate even more improvements in a relatively short time and at an affordable cost. This would also assist the short line railway that leases the track in improving its freight service, which is a strong contributor to the economies of Perth and Huron counties.”

Especially irksome is the fact that VIA has presented a plan to Ottawa for the purchase of a new fleet to re-equip its trains throughout the Quebec-Windsor Corridor, including the service to St. Marys. The government sent VIA off to conduct a $1-million study of the options and they now know what needs to be done. That modern equipment would reduce VIA’s costs, improve its reliability, attract more passengers and allow for extra trains.

All Aboard St. Marys points out that rail equipment perfectly suited for Canada is now rolling off production lines in Sacramento, CA and less than 500 km away in Elmira, NY. Piggybacking on these U.S. orders would cost-effectively deliver the service-proven motive power and rolling stock VIA desperately requires.

Adding to the call made by All Aboard St. Marys for incremental improvements to VIA’s existing service is today’s re-issue of Oxford County’s 2016 report, New Directions. It makes the case for further examination of the long-range options, such as HSR, but not without improvements to the existing public transportation services in Southwestern Ontario. These include the two VIA lines linking Toronto and London, which serve St. Marys, Stratford, Brantford, Woodstock and Ingersoll, and extend west to Chatham, Windsor and Sarnia.

New Directions paints a clear picture of what an integrated public transportation system would do for Southwestern Ontario and what it will take to create it in advance of any long-range HSR plan. A key component is upgrading VIA to high-performance standards with new equipment, faster service and more frequent departures. The report is available at: w%20Directions%20WEB%2020170801%20v2.pdf

“What Oxford County is calling for – and which has been endorsed up by the Western Ontario Wardens Caucus and the Mayors of Southwest Ontario – is exactly what we need,” says West. “But it won’t happen until the two upper levels of government coordinate their activities and pool the public funds they control. They have to upgrade VIA and the connecting bus and transit services.

“The time is long past for all these disconnected and expensive dream schemes that don’t meet today’s needs. Just give VIA the money and the authority to start doing it now.”