Wednesday, September 16, 2009

How I spent my summer vacation

Full disclosure time:

I spent the summer working at Metrolinx. It was an amazing learning experience and, while I wasn't in a planning position (my field), it gave me an opportunity to learn aspects of the transportation planning industry that I haven't yet been able to learn about in my course work. Having said that, I think I would be naive to say that the work experience didn't affect how I think about transit issues in the GTA.

I've always had a pro-Metrolinx bias, I've never tried to hide it, and it probably won't go away. I sincerely believe that, while no agency is perfect, the regional focus that Metrolinx has as its mandate is the only way we can achieve the transportation goals of moving people sustainably across the entire GTHA. We expect the population of this region to increase by about 2-3 million people. Intensification is a must, but there is no way we'll be able to accommodate that kind of growth within the 416 alone. We have to improve links within the 416, within the 905 and between the two. I'll be critical when I need to be, but the forward looking, positive and collaborative forum that I've tried to build this blog into will continue. Call me a trained seal (again) if you want, but these are the things I believe.

Now, to get back into the spirit of posting, here's one thing I observed over the summer:

In mid-July I cycled the Waterfront Trail from Burlington to Niagara Falls over two days and took the weekend GO excursion train back to Toronto, and was fairly impressed by the way the service was operated. Knowing that there would be plenty of cyclists taking advantage of this service (since Niagara has a very well-kept trail system), GO ran 10 car trains with 8 coaches available for passengers, the ninth coach (with tarp on the seats) became a bike car, and the cab car closed to passengers. This increased the amount of bikes that could be carried, but was only available to people who were travelling the entire way from Union to Niagara Falls - people getting on or off at intermediate stops had to mix it up with the passengers. By all measures the service was a great success, and was done fairly cheaply with platform expansions the only real hard infrastructure needed to make it happen (the concept of "quick wins vs full service on opening day" is something that I will address in a future post).

Looking to the southeast, the Long Island Railroad runs a similar excursion service. During the summer, the Cannonball has left NYC in the early afternoon and run express to the Hamptons - a 100 year tradition. The LIRR also runs local service to these same destinations, but by their own admission, the Cannonball remains their most popular service. As GO expands further into the Niagara Region, I suspect that an express will remain popular. Therein lies the question: should the GO express service to Niagara Falls have a name?

In the golden age of railroading the premier trains had names, with some remaining to this day. Is it time to bring some of these names out of retirement to give a bit more prestige to an already special service?

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Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Darcy Allan Sheppard

May he be remembered as a man, not a martyr. For who he was, not how he died.