The plan is more modest than originally envisioned, but GO Transit will extend train services to Waterloo Region next year. Two trains instead of four will run each morning and evening, connecting Kitchener to downtown Toronto, the provincial government announced last week.
The scaled-back project also puts off a park-and-ride commuter station in Breslau and a layover facility near Baden, reducing the start-up costs dramatically to $18 million from $153 million. Instead, the transit authority will introduce the service gradually, expanding as ridership numbers warrant such a move.
“By the end of 2011 GO transit will be launching a new rail service that will connect Guelph, Acton and the Kitchener-Waterloo area to the greater Toronto and Hamilton area through the Georgetown corridor,” said Bruce McCuaig, president of Metrolinx, the agency responsible for the provincial transit service. “It’s the first stage of the plan, and we have plans for further development down the road.”
McCuaig expects two trains to depart between 5:30 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. from the Via Rail station on Victoria Street North in downtown Kitchener. The trains are expected to return between 5:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
“There was a similar service in the ’90s to Guelph and it was cancelled because of low ridership numbers, but I think what we’re going to see this time is that there is a lot of pent-up demand,” said Kathleen Wynne, Minister of Transportation. “Not just from those communities where there will be stations, but from the communities
surrounding those areas, so Woolwich will fall into that.”
Trains will take just under two hours to travel the 100 kilometres to Toronto’s Union Station, their speed constrained by restrictions on the privately-owned tracks. Each train will consist of 12 cars with room for as many as 1,400 riders.
“This service will have a huge impact on my life,” said Leeanna Pendergast, MPP for Kitchener-Conestoga. “I currently take the train, so to have two more options in the morning to get out of Kitchener and to have two more options to return in the evening will make our lives that much easier. We need to get to work, we need to get there efficiently and to reduce our stress levels we need to get there and back safely. This is a great first step.”
And for transit officials, this announcement is exactly that, an introductory step.
“What we’re doing at this point is launching the first step of service and then subject to the ridership we experience and subject to the availability of funding, we will be looking at how we can provide more service in the future,” said McCuaig. “We do have an approved plan for a station in Breslau, but we don’t have a specific plan to construct that at this point in time.”
A Greenhouse Road, Breslau location has been tapped as the site for a park-and-ride train station. The project would have seen the construction of a small station and parking for 700 cars (with room for an additional 350) on land running along the existing CN/Goderich-Exeter Railway tracks running south of Hwy. 7.
In Wilmot Township, a layover facility is also on hold. Instead, trains will park overnight in west Kitchener rather than at a permanent facility.
Only time will tell if and when an expansion will go ahead. But looking at the numbers that they have already tallied, planners are optimistic that the service will be well received. GO Transit launched intercity buses last year from the Waterloo Region to Mississauga. Ridership has more than tripled as university students are beginning to make use of the service.
“I think that the project is going to be a big success,” said Wynne of the extension. “The consistent response we get when we bring GO – whether it’s buses or trains – to a community is ‘We want more of this.’ People always ask ‘Why didn’t it come sooner?’”