Column: GO service is coming to Guelph
This month's column focuses on the details of GO Transit's EA study results for train service to Guelph and Kitchener. The short version is that Guelph will be moving from 6 Via trains per day to 12 Via and 8 GO trains per day, with none of the twenty daily trains allowing commuters to take the train to work west of their origin.
The combined schedule at Guelph is currently expected to look something like this when GO service commences in 2011:
Here's the article, as it appeared on page A8 of Monday's Mercury.
An environmental assessment for Guelph was released by GO Transit July 23, and while this city was not even mentioned in GO's 10-year plan just three years ago this newest study recommends four trains per day running from Kitchener to Toronto and back. And the surprises don't stop there.
According to Appendix B of the 1,452 page document found on GO's website, VIA Rail has advised GO that it intends to double service to Guelph, running 12 VIA trains and 8 GO trains to the Royal City, putting us well on our way back to levels not seen since the early 20th century.
If GO's board approves this environmental assessment, the project will become "shovel-ready," magic words for infrastructure projects in today's economy. GO trains could be running to Guelph by some time in 2011. The cost is projected to be $153,400,000, a little over one-third of the cost of the new Highway 7.
The new combined schedule for VIA and GO trains to Guelph will add four eastbound morning GO trains originating in Kitchener, and three additional afternoon VIA trains in each direction through Guelph between Toronto and London.The report notes, as anyone following Guelph's transportation issues will already be aware, that the rate of commuter traffic from Kitchener to Guelph vastly outnumbers commuter traffic from Guelph to Kitchener. So, while several trains will service the Kitchener to Guelph commuter market, there are no westbound trains planned before noon and no eastbound trains at a commuting-appropriate time in the evening. Those will come later, according to the study, when 50 miles of additional track are built alongside the existing line that runs between Brampton's Mount Pleasant station and Kitchener, giving us all-day service.
But if it all sounds too good to be true, there may be a fly in the ointment. While three station locations were proposed in the study for Guelph - the former LaFarge property, the existing VIA station, and a greenfield site at Watson Road - only one was selected. The study predicts that 65 per cent of GO train using commuters in Guelph will drive to the station and park, with 35 per cent using other modes such as bicycles or transit - so parking capacity for 65 per cent of those train riders will be needed if that prediction is accurate for the service to succeed. GO trains ran to Guelph from 1990 to 1993 and the lack of parking is often cited as a major reason for its failure last time around.
According to the report, Guelph's VIA station currently has only 45 parking spaces.
Even a cursory look at the station any day of the week will show that the parking lot is filled beyond capacity every working day for the existing lone VIA commuter train. That station lot is due to be converted into Guelph's long-awaited transit hub. Moreover, the city has promised to build a new parking garage on the south side of the tracks at the top of Neeve Street in time for the opening of GO service in 2011.
If you're keeping track, that means the city is now planning to build at least three parking garages downtown (on Wilson, Baker, and Neeve streets), forcing train-using commuters to compete with downtown businesses for parking.
While GO's report anticipates 210 parking spaces will be needed for commuter service in Guelph on day one - and 210 will be provided in the Neeve Street lot - the study anticipates a demand for 670 spaces by 2031. GO had predicted 150 spaces would be needed in Barrie on day one, less than two years ago, and within a couple of months faced three times that demand. Barrie's station now has 628 parking spaces.
The stations along the route will include Kitchener's existing downtown VIA station - with a transit connection, but no new parking - the Breslau Greenhouse Road park-and-ride - with 700 parking spaces, and expandable to 1,050 - Guelph's downtown VIA station, with a transit connection/park-and-ride, 210 parking spaces, and the Acton Hide House, with a park-and-ride and 200 parking spaces).
Guelph is well on its way to a reasonable level of passenger rail service, and barring a cataclysmic event, it is likely to be here within two years. I commend GO and VIA for working together to improve our passenger network and to give people alternatives to our clogged highways. Better transit service cannot get here soon enough.
[ My concluding sentence: "I hope that Guelph can rise to the challenge of moving people to and from this service." did not appear in the printed version but does appear in the on-line version. ]
In Saturday's Mercury, there was a related story: a detailed history of the Guelph Junction Railway spanned pages A1 and A3 of the paper, incorrectly asserting that the Canadian National once operated the Guelph Junction Railway when it was the Canadian Pacific. The phrasing made it sound like that bit of incorrect information came from me, but it most assuredly did not.
Posted at 11:20 on August 11, 2009