The government of Ontario announced a step to make all-day GO service between Waterloo Region and Toronto a reality. Through Metrolinx, the regional transportation authority for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area, the province has secured an agreement-in-principle with CN to allow a GO Regional Express Rail to be built along the Kitchener GO corridor.
The initial challenge in accommodating all-day GO service between Kitchener and Toronto was the fact that GO Transit owned the track from Union Station in Toronto to Bramalea station in Brampton, but CN owned the stretch of track between Bramalea to Georgetown. According to a report from the CBC, the CN mainline saw heavy traffic of freight trains along its stretch, so additional track would have to be built along the same rail corridor to accommodate high speed trains.
— Alex Kinsella (@alexkinsella) June 14, 2016
The agreement-in-principle begins the planning and technical analysis to building a new freight corridor, which will allow CN to shift most of its freight traffic from that Bramalea to Kitchener section the company owns, to the new corridor. This will free up capacity for more GO service through Brampton to Kitchener. At the same time, the province is committing $43 million to fund Waterloo Region’s proposed transit hub in downtown Kitchener to make it easier for transit users to connect to GO rail and bus service, the LRT being built in Waterloo Region, VIA Rail services, and local and inter-city bus services.
“Every dollar we spend on transit grows our economy, creates jobs and strengthens our cities and communities. Expanding GO Transit between Kitchener-Waterloo and the GTA will reduce commute times and make a real difference in people’s daily lives,” said Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario. “Most exciting is that the agreement we have reached with CN brings us another step closer to building the innovation supercorridor by connecting Waterloo Region and Toronto with two-way, all-day electric GO trains.”
In the meantime, starting in September, GO will extend two morning and two afternoon peak train trips that currently run between Georgetown and Union Station to also serve Kitchener, Guelph, and Acton. This doubles the number of weekday train trips between Kitchener and Toronto.
The news should come as a welcome surprise to those both inside and outside the tech community, notable examples including Toronto mayor John Tory and Kitchener mayor Berry Vrbanovic — who have both stressed the importance of reliable transit in order to encourage innovation between the two startup hubs. However, founders like Thalmic Labs’ Stephen Lake have argued that all-day GO service doesn’t go far enough — high speed trains should be the goal.
Speaking to BetaKit, Lake said that this is a “step in the right direction”, as transit “is a critical part of the equation in terms of solving the talent challenges companies in both cities are facing as they scale.”
However, he said that the cities still have a long way to go. Lake said that he would like to see two-way, all-day GO service with moderate speed — approaching one hour — while the province works toward looking for a long-term solution over the next year, and a fully-operational long term plan over the next five years.
“The turning point will be when a rail trip between the cities approaches 30 minutes or less — which will enable daily commuting in both directions,” said Lake. “Contrary to popular belief, this is very achievable, and economical. 30-year-old electric high speed rail technology can enable this link at a modest cost, also reducing traffic on the 401. We don’t need expensive “mag lev” technology to get us there.”