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GO trains to run to Guelph and Kitchener by 2011

Last night I, along with at least 75 other interested citizens, attended GO Transit's public information centre for its proposed expansion to Guelph and Kitchener. It is an accelerated EA and trains will be here under the plan at least 4 years earlier than I predicted just this January. There are a number of comments to be made about this plan.

The good news is that GO is willing to consider two stations in Guelph, and as many in Kitchener. The proposed station locations are (not all will be used, these are just possibilities):

Layover facility (no passengers) at Petersburg, a few miles west of Kitchener
Layover facility and station at Ira Needles, immediately west of Kitchener
Kitchener downtown VIA station
Layover facility and station at Breslau, just east of Kitchener
Guelph former Lafarge property (park-and-ride), at the Hanlon
Guelph downtown VIA station
Guelph Watson Road
Acton downtown
Acton East (Hide House)

My position on which stations should be used in Guelph is well documented. I believe the Lafarge property, which is readily accessible from highway 6 with minimal surface street driving, is the ideal location for Guelph's park-and-ride. Guelph downtown's invaluable connection to downtown residents, city busses, Via trains, and inter-city busses is also a necessary stop. Connecting to cars at Lafarge and busses at the downtown station would be ideal, given the lack of any sensible or economical parking options in the downtown core.

I am told that the Guelph downtown business association does not agree with my assessment, and I can understand their concern that the Lafarge station would be built at the expense of a downtown station. I strongly believe both are needed and that it is not an either/or scenario.

There is talk of building as many as three parking garages downtown. Wilson and Baker street lots would be 500 stalls each, a net gain of only 700-800 stalls, and for the first time I heard last night reference to a possible third lot of comparable size on the south side of the tracks in Guelph specifically to accommodate commuter train service. I do not personally believe this solution makes sense. GO wants at least 800 to 1000 stalls to start out with. That volume would eat $30 million of parking garage space off the bat, when a 1000-spot lot could be made at either Lafarge or Watson Rd for a fraction of that price, and it would deprive downtown business of nearly all of the freshly built parking. Commuters parking to take the train to leave the city will get there well before commuters arriving in Guelph by car, using up all of that downtown parking. Let us not forget the lessons of Barrie, whose 480 spot lot was full within two months of the start of service, massively exceeding projections, or the Lakeshore line whose 2000+ stall lots are so full that GO is preparing to build parking garages at several stations.

I prefer the Lafarge option over the Watson Rd option for a number of reasons.

While Watson Rd will serve the new developments around Grange Rd, the bulk of commuters in the city live in the south end off Downey and Kortright, and Claire roads. The Hanlon is the fastest way downtown for most of the city, and for our dramatically under-serviced neighbours like Cambridge. The sensible thing to do is build a station as close to the major highway as humanly possible so that drivers are not sent down surface streets. Having the station at Watson Rd means that the bulk of commuters will either go down the Hanlon, through downtown and across York Rd, or across Stone and up Watson.

The Lafarge property is also approximately geographically central to the city of Guelph, while the Watson Rd site is not even within city limits and is outside of our development territory as Guelph tries to conform with Places to Grow. Lafarge property also exists at the junction of two tracks, one which connects Kitchener and Guelph, and the other which connects Cambridge and Guelph. I see long-term opportunity in preserving Lafarge property as the major park-and-ride station for Guelph-Cambridge and Guelph-Kitchener commuters. Such LRT service could stop there and at the Guelph downtown station, but stretching its legs another 4 miles out to Watson Rd to connect to parking is not sensible.

That all said, while Lafarge property has most of the advantages, Watson Rd does have a couple. First, commuters who do live in the east end of the city would not be backtracking through town to get on the train (though they could proceed eastward to Acton, which would be faster anyway), and second: the proposed station parking lot off Watson Rd is at the end of the runway of Guelph airfield. If that were to be used, Guelph's airfield would be the first airport in Canada to have its own train station, beating Pearson with the 16 passenger trains per day that pass it without stopping. Dorval airport in Montreal does have a Via station, but you have to be taking the train from the Toronto side, not the Montreal side, to make use of it, so I don't count it.

The proposed plans call for GO trains to be running to Guelph by 2011, with the Guelph subdivision -- the name of the track that runs from Georgetown to London -- to be double-tracked within the study limits no later than the year 2031, with immediate upgrades to CTC (centralised traffic control) and welded rail to get us started. I suspect that the double tracking will take place far sooner than that, as traffic builds on the line.

One thing that struck me was a chart weighing relative values of road expansion versus rail expansion. As this project is run by GO, rail is recommended, in contrast to the MTO's various studies on road expansion which say that roads are better. It will be interesting to see if GTA West's study takes the same values on the same chart for the same corridor and gives "new roads" strong recommendation when GO's study gave that option the least possible preference.

While a copy of GO's 10-year plan I acquired last year did not even mention Guelph as a site to expand rail service, this EA which has come out of nowhere recently is great news for this region. I am very encouraged by the proposed plans, the timeline, the dedication of all the members of the EA from Burnside and GO who were in attendance last night, and by the number of people who came out from the community to see it all. I am looking forward to seeing progress as this environmental assessment moves forward. Transit is the future and our region is finally leading that charge.

Posted at 09:11 on September 24, 2008

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

First public meeting for GO train expansion to Guelph and Waterloo region | guelph transit | Is the US bailout the largest heist in world history?

Devere writes at Tue Oct 7 19:13:14 EDT 2008...

David,have yu heard anything regarding the planning of the intermodal terminal supporting via,go-rail and bus,greyhound and guelph transit in donwtown guelph?hopefully there will be enough parking and all modes will be under one roof.

Ryan (LocalRailfan) writes at Tue Nov 3 16:00:32 EST 2009...

Dear David,

I read your article on GO transit's expansion. Will GO be using the CPR Hamilton Subdivision from Hamilton-GUE VIA Guelph or Kitchener?

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