Thursday, February 28, 2008

Peterborough and the Kawarthas

I watched you from the train
Peterborough and the Kawarthas
When I come back I'll see you again
Peterborough and the Kawarthas

I listen for you every morning
I listen for you every morning
I listen for you every morning
I listen for you every morning

- Peterborough and the Kawarthas, by the Barenaked Ladies

Aside from a close friend who's currently attending Trent University, I have no connections to Peterborough. It's a lovely town, but not really youth-oriented, so spending 3 hours at the greyhound terminal was agonizing. Regardless, the finance minister, through the federal budget introduced earlier this week, announced that $88 million would be spent to upgrade the Kawartha Lakes Railway Havelock subdivision between Peterborough and the Toronto Yard. Trains would then continue on existing tracks to Union Station, although these might be upgraded as well.

Since MoveOntario 2020 identified part of this line for service, it seems that the file has been dropped in Metrolinx's lap, although initial reports that VIA Rail would administer the project are still floating around the media. A partnership could work, as the distance between Peterborough and Toronto could require VIA's comfort. Regardless, the true debate is about the nature of the line itself. Is it a necessary connection, or is pork for the finance minister's riding?

Peterborough and the Kawarthas are currently isolated from the rest of the Greater Golden Horseshoe - that is a fact. All other major centres have at least infrequent VIA Rail service.

So, does Peterborough deserve passenger rail service?

Yes. Commuters and travelers deserve an alternative to Highway 35/115. Not only is it a long drive to begin with, it is made much longer when the congestion from cottagers bring traffic to a standstill. Also, Peterborough is a designated growth centre, and the Places to Grow Act calls for growth centres to be supported by Transit.

Should it be along the KLR corridor?

No, at least not initially. If the Pickering Airport is ever built, the terminus should be located there. Beyond this site are only small villages which are better served with rural bus connections to the built up areas of Durham. Also, since this area has been Greenbelted, it will not see any significant development in the future. In addition, the largest employer in Peterborough has traditionally been General Motors in Oshawa. Based on this, I believe that a new line should be constructed to parallel the highway and join the extended Lakeshore line near Bowmanville. This would give the desired connection to Union Station and offer connections to Oshawa. I have no problems with upgrading the KLR line - its actually very scenic. But, I think it should come after a direct connection to Oshawa.

Tayler Parnaby, CFRB 1010's chief correspondent, suspects that this could be a precursor to a federally funded GO service, which is promising. This federal government hasn't been very receptive to our transit needs, but when they do propose services, we shouldn't dismiss them out-of-hand. Even if it is a dysfunctional project (which this one isn't), the symbolic value may be much more valuable.

To conclude, and I know this is not an elegant way to conclude, here's a message to the finance minister:

If this is about bringing rail to your constituents, keep going, because the trickle-down effect will help the GTA. If this about bringing convenient rail service to the citizens of Peterborough, fund a line down the highway corridor and let MoveOntario 2020 deal with North Durham.

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