A Great Idea. But Will it Ever Get on Track?

Want to know why some passenger trains have been such a hit? They run on dedicated rights of way.  No sitting in sidings waiting for 150-car freight trains to rumble by. No commuter trains to hopscotch around.  Just passenger trains. And if the right of way is custom-built for high speed, so much the better.

Small wonder that Via Rail, Canada’s version of Amtrak, wants to get its own tracks between Montreal, Ottawa and Toronto– lines it must share with Canadian National Railways, as well as with the commuter services in Canada’s two biggest cities.

But the exclusive right of way may be a long time in coming. The main reason? The high price tag: C$4 billion. At a time when the Canadian government is chary of coughing up billions of dollars to help Toronto expand its subway, it’s a good bet it won’t want to cough up even more money for Via Rail, a federally funded operation.

Then, too, where will Via build its right of way? The logical choice would seem to be alongside CN Rail’s existing main line since it serves more populated areas than the Montreal-Toronto line operated by rival Canadian Pacific06-05-VIA-673x427 (1).

But simply putting down another two tracks besides CN’s double-track line would be daunting. Overpasses, as well as bridges, would have to be widened. And finding space along the existing rights of way into both Toronto and Montreal would be hard.

Still, Via’s proposal is a gambit to stir the blood! Stay tuned!

 

 

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An electrifying announcement?

GO Transit, which ties Greater Toronto together with commuter buses and trains is one step closer to converting its railway system to electric traction. Or, is it?

The Canadian government has announced it’s lavishing C$1.9 billion on Regional Express Rail, GO’s $13.5-billion expansion program which will see electric locomotives replace diesels on GO’s railway network.

But the Toronto Star story that announced the funding failed to say if any of the $1.9 billion would actually be spent on electrification.

It did say that more  than $750 million would pay for upgrades to GO’s line to Kitchener, a city roughly 90 km southwest of Toronto, as well as one of the centre’s of Canada’s high-tech industry.

And with faster, more frequent commuter trains to Toronto, Kitchener, along with neighboring Waterloo, could quickly become more attractive to folks who want to work in Canada’s largest city, but who can no longer afford to live there.

 

The Star also noted that the rest of the $1.9 billion would pay for upgrades to GO’s other rail routes: the line to Barrie, north of Toronto, as well as the lines extending both east and west along Lake Ontario from Toronto’s union station.

Still, when it comes to supplying the greater Toronto area with badly needed commuter service, any news is good news, right?

 Map of GO Transit’s train routes

train_map-900x278

Pearson is Pointing Itself in the Right Direction

Many airports worldwide already tie in air travel with rail, bus and subway transportation. Just think of Heathrow in London or Hong Kong International. Even Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport, a piker among the world’s heavyweights, is directly connected to that country’s railway network.

But Toronto’s Pearson International lacks this setup. True, it does boast a rapid transit link to Toronto’s busy Union Station. But it still lacks direct connections to Via Rail, Canada’s nationwide passenger service, or to GO Transit, the commuter network that serves Toronto and its sprawling bedroom communities. Pearson also lacks any direct connection with Toronto’s subway lines.

But all this may be about to change. The airport now says it wants to morph into a mega-transportation hub with direct links to GO Transit and to the Toronto Transit Commission. The hub would also provide a berth for bus service for the City of Mississauga, the rapidly expanding city on Toronto’s western flank.

Moreover, to pay for the new hub, Pearson would allow private investors to take ownership stakes in the airport.

And although the proposed hub is just that, a proposal, it could send Pearson’s passenger numbers soaring — no small consideration, given that the airport, which in 2016 handled 40 million travelers, is Canada’s busiest.

Proposed transportation hub at Toronto’s Pearson Intl. Airport

transport hub

Let’s get on the GO — to Orangeville!

The Globe and Mail, Canada’s leading newspaper, recently noted (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/toronto-driven-growth-fuels-boom-in-sleepyshelburne/article34205376) how Toronto’s relentless expansion is engulfing hitherto largely rural towns like Orangeville, (pop: 30,700), roughly 80 km. northwest of the city.

Even towns farther afield, such as Shelburne (pop: 7,200), are falling prey to Toronto’s juggernaut, given the unquenchable desire of city folk for affordable housing. Not only have home prices in Toronto gone through the roof, but they show no signs of coming back to earth anytime soon.

(Freight train serving Orangeville, Ont., Canada)

GO Transit is the bus and railway network that links downtown Toronto to its far-flung suburbs. And its trains neither serve Orangeville nor Shelburne. But a railway line to Orangeville does exist , (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orangeville_Brampton_Railway), albeit a single-track one. Moreover, it’s now used only for freight. But as a right of way for future GO service, it’s obviously valuable nonetheless.

Ontario Shows it’s Serious About Meeting its Transit Needs

Like almost every big city worldwide, metro Toronto is growing — so much so that its subways, streets, freeways and commuter railway lines are increasingly bogged down.

It’s not as if the politicos haven’t noticed. They have. They’ve just been long on rhetoric, but short on action — perhaps because building new subways and commuter lines requires money. And money — or, at least, the willpower to raise taxes to get it — has been in short supply.

But now Ontario’s provincial government is stepping up to the plate. It’s called for tenders to build a massive new railway tunnel beneath the junction of two major freeways in Toronto’s northwest corner.

The tunnel will presumably allow GO Transit, the commuter system for the Greater Toronto Area, to run more trains more frequently. The tunnel may also make it easier for GO to beef up service to many of the GTA’s satellite cities, such as Guelph, Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo, making them more attractive to people who need to work in Toronto, but who cannot now afford to live there.

RER_Highway_401_Rail_Tunnel