Wednesday, December 12, 2007

GO trains overcrowded, underfunded: Auditor - Toronto Star

Sometimes, it takes an Auditor General's report to tell us what we already know. Years of underfunding has resulted in GO Transit being unable to increase service fast enough, resulting in overcrowded service, slow service response time to rapidly growing areas of the region, and delays caused by the breakdown of equipment that cannot be replaced or refurbished quickly enough.

However, an Auditor General's report, by nature, does not offer in depth solutions on how to fix these problems. It is simply a glimpse of government departments who are underperforming - and in this case, it has identified one where the problems are systematic.
GO Transit can't any more train service because of the physical layout of the rail network and the business practices of the railways in the region. 

The Canadian Pacific Railway owns the rails on most of the Milton line and the line from Bayview Junction to Hamilton station, and simply will not allow more trains on its tracks unless GO builds new tracks along the entire corridor. In Hamilton, this could mean rebuilding the tunnel under the city. This is a huge job, and until MoveOntario 2020, there was no funding for such huge construction projects.

The Barrie/Bradford & Stouffville lines will see all day train service by 2010 to Newmarket and Markham respectively, but there is a catch. All day service on the Lakeshore lines is easy because the lines are double and triple tracked for their entire length. All day service on the two northern lines will come in the form of passing sidings on single track lines. Two trains will leave the terminals at the same time and can only pass each other in the middle. If one train is delayed, then the other will have to wait. While it is the fastest and least expensive way to introduce such a service, the possibilities for it going horribly wrong are a high.

The Richmond Hill line probably won't see all day service until after the Yonge subway is extended to Highway 7. With the two York Region stations being a stones-throw from Yonge Street, I suspect many will choose to save money by using the YRT & TTC combo, as the travel times will come down and offer a better value. Only if the subway is overcrowded during the midday will the Richmond Hill line see Lakeshore-like service. Expanded rush hour service, however, will come in the form of more trains and an extension to a stop at the north end of Richmond Hill.

That leaves us with the Georgetown line, which sees the worst service on weekends and the worst Union-bound service on weekdays. The line's only strongpoint is its service to Yorkdale and York Mills and its outbound service from Union Station after 7 p.m. Above Bramalea station, the line is heavily used by CN Rail freight trains, and the infrastructure to remedy some of these chokepoints is still years away. At West Toronto Junction, near Dupont & Dundas Streets, CP Rail's busy east-west line across Toronto passes at grade. Other lines have seen overpasses constructed in 16 months, but the decision to build an underpass here means that it won't be completed until 2010, four years after construction began. Between those two projects, a project to expand a single track line is tied up in the Union - Pearson Rail Link environmental assessment. Bitter opposition to the airport trains has force the provincial government to review the process in greater depth than normal, and means that the go-ahead, won't come until 2008 at the earliest.

The present situation on GO Transit is the result of it choking on its own success, combined with the physical inability to build the expansions paid for by the provincial government fast enough. The $1.6 billion that the Liberals have delivered, on top of MoveOntario 2020 money, will go a long way, but the work will take time to complete. Sadly, we'll have to bear with it until then - especially Georgetown riders. For the foreseeable future, the best we can expect is hourly bus service to and from Union. However, those runs wouldn't likely serve Bloor, Weston or Etobicoke North stations.

Sorry Jessica.



At 12/12/2007 4:57 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I honestly think GTTA or some other authority should expropriate all the railways within (and including) the CN freight line that stretches from Brampton to Pickering. First, a freight rail line between the CP Milton line along the 407 to the Bramalea junction would make it unnecessary for CP to use the North Toronto subdivision. Then the CP yard in Agincourt could be turned around to allow CP to continue use. The CN line would be expanded, and this should make it possible for GO to run express trains with 15 minute headways all days. That's what I hope.

By the way, right now I'm working on a Google map file for my vision for the Golden Horseshoe (similar to yours), and when I eventually get it done I'll make it public.

At 12/12/2007 5:53 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

Railways are federal territory, as section 92 of the Constitution Act, 1867, but the same section also set property rights as a provincial responsibility. A province expropriating a railway would end up in a constitutional crisis. However, all options should be on the table, so it's an idea worth considering.

Building new railway lines goes a little too far in my opinion, but your point is very clear. Freight trains, as important as they are for reducing the number of trucks on the road, should not impede passenger rail service.

What's needed in the long term is tracks and signals which ensure that freight trains do not delay passenger trains. What's needed in the short term is a reasonable framework where agencies like GO can negotiate track time from railways which don't want to give it up.

I'm looking forward to seeing your plan, and I hope that you participate in the Metrolinx (GTTA) regional transportation plan public consultation process. Since I am on the Metrolinx advisory committee, I can tell you first hand that a better plan will come from good public input.

At 12/12/2007 6:52 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

Stephen Rees has another take on the subject.

At 12/12/2007 6:57 p.m. , Anonymous Andy MJ / a.k.a The GTA Patriot said...

I agree with Dean! It's time to either take control of the lines within Toronto or do something which will allow "all-day" service on GO Train lines. The governments seems to have failed to understand the dynamics of movement within the GTA. Just having "longer" trains will not cut it. Rush-only only service does not work either. We need all day service, which would allow people to have true options for travel in the GTA and beyond.

At 12/12/2007 7:25 p.m. , Blogger Andrae Griffith said...

We cannot blame the railways for this. They are private entities and by nature only serve the best interests of their shareholders. If you owned a private road, you would not allow others to use that road if you would be inconvenienced in the end.

Having said that, I think the three of us are in agreement. The federal government needs to create the framework that will allow transit agencies to run as many trains as they like for fair compensation to the railway owners. Having to completely rebuild a railway corridor is not fair.


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