March 2020

How Metrolinx Is Growing Its Network with Three Rail Extensions

GO TrainThere’s a lot more to increasing Ontario GO Train service to Bowmanville, Kitchener and Niagara than having trains roll up to platforms. Here, we break down some of the background and facts of this historic transit expansion.

Canada’s rail history is vast and filled with moments that defined the times – including the earliest tests of one of the nation’s first trains, which were apparently done in the moonlight, so the public wouldn’t be alarmed by the machine.

We’re now seeing another remarkable period of transit growth – though it’s very public and runs during night and day.

GO Transit trains and UP Express – the rail link between downtown Toronto to Pearson International Airport – are seeing record numbers. Compared to last quarter, 4.9 per cent more people are choosing these trains. And GO ridership growth is outpacing other providers in North America, according to the American Public Transportation Association rail results over the same period (3.4 per cent).

What’s driving this trend? More customers are taking trains outside of their daily commutes. There is steady growth in weekend short trips (28 per cent) and off-peak ridership (40 per cent). This jibes with what Metrolinx is aiming for with its GO Expansion program: transforming GO from a commuter railway to a two-way, all-day transit network, with service every 15 minutes or better on core parts of its network.

Under GO Expansion, Metrolinx has increased train service by 33 per cent over the last two years, or more than 400 additional weekly trips. Incentives that make transit more affordable such as Kids GO Free, the $10 Sunday Funday pass and PRESTO event discounts are also driving ridership.

With all new work, the Initial Business Case (IBC) is the first of four Metrolinx documents developed over a project’s lifecycle.

The growth may seem more natural than the first train did in La Prairie, Quebec, in 1836 – the original rails were made out of pine – but the larger GO Expansion project is another milestone marker in Canadian history.

Here, we’ve broken down some of the interesting elements about each of the three IBCs for the rail extensions in Bowmanville, Kitchener and Niagara:


Bowmanville
Bowmanville GO Expansion

Metrolinx is undertaking exciting work to extend service eastward through Bowmanville and other communities in Durham Region.

Metrolinx’s Board of Directors recently recommended Option 2 advance to the next stage of the business case process, called the Preliminary Design Business Case.

A previous IBC considered a single alignment and service concept (morning and evening peaks only). Of the four routes considered, Option 2 extends through Oshawa GO Station and uses Canadian Pacific (CP) Railway’s existing General Motors (GM) spur line to cross Highway 401 and connect to Bowmanville. This option does the best job of extending the benefits of two-way, all-day service to riders in Durham Region while balancing project costs.

This option serves the major population centres along the extension to get more commuters in and out of downtown Toronto, but also strengthens off-peak and weekend inter-community travel with more weekday and weekend service.

Currently, GO bus service runs from Oshawa to Bowmanville every 30 minutes. Under the new proposal, there is the possibility of four new rail stations at Thornton’s Corners East, Ritson Road, Courtice and Bowmanville. The existing Oshawa GO Station will remain open.


Kitchener

Metrolinx is transforming the existing Kitchener line into a true rapid transit experience.

GO train ridership at the Kitchener GO Station increased by 87 per cent in 2019 thanks to new mid-day and late-night trains (84 more weekly trips). The expansion of two-way, all-day train service between Kitchener and Toronto has been under consideration for many years. With the new proposal, there will be more trips at every point along the line – from Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, Halton Hills, Brampton, Mississauga and Toronto.

Two-way, all-day service between Kitchener and Toronto requires new infrastructure between Kitchener and Bramalea GO stations. Metrolinx does not own the nearly 21-kilometer segment between Bramalea and Georgetown GO stations, along the Halton Subdivision. For this reason, a freight bypass to divert Canadian National (CN) Railway traffic off the Halton Subdivision was explored in the 2015 IBC and 2016 feasibility studies.

However, the updated 2018 IBC identifies a minimal infrastructure option (Option 2) as the optimal investment decision. The new option allows for improved service at a lower cost, and in a shorter timeline than the freight bypass options (five years versus eight years).

Thanks to relationships with its freight partners, Metrolinx is finding ways to work with them to coordinate schedules and to establish the long-term agreements needed to accommodate service increases. Metrolinx will continue to phase in service increases as portions of the corridor are upgraded.


Niagara Region
Niagara Rail Extension Proposed Alignment

Metrolinx introduced year-round, seven-day-a-week service between Toronto and Niagara Falls four years earlier than promised. In early 2019, weekday GO train service became available and weekend train service between the two regions started in August 2019.

The first Niagara Extension IBC was posted in 2015. An updated 2019 version examines three all-day service patterns, captures the impacts on ridership of Niagara’s strong tourism market and uses a 2031 growth forecast consistent to region-wide growth plan totals to inform forecasted demand.
The preferred option in the updated IBC increases train service with 11 daily trips to and from Niagara Region. Under this option, GO’s seasonal summer rail service would be extended to year-round daily operation to serve off-peak hours. There would also be extension of hourly two-way, all-day services to Confederation GO Station.

The scope of the future Confederation GO Station has been finalized and will be tendered in spring 2020. The timeline for the construction of the self-serve rail station will be confirmed once the contract is awarded. In the interim, GO bus Route 12 began serving the future site of Confederation GO in November 2019.

In line with its transit-oriented community development approach, Metrolinx has adopted a market-driven strategy for station development and is assessing how it can use market forces to leverage the GO Transit real estate portfolio in a way that benefits communities and delivers a better customer experience. Given this, Metrolinx is relying on third-party partners (such as municipalities, developers and others) to build Grimsby and Confederation GO stations.

GO Train 5

“We have consistently planned for the integration of transit and land-use planning that maximizes the amount of residential, business and leisure space within walking distance of public transit, so this direction is an exciting opportunity to move this approach forward with each new GO station” says Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster.

“Not only can this approach save taxpayer dollars and exponentially grow ridership, it can deliver much more than transit stations. Each new stop creates opportunities for built environments that offer services people want where they live, work and play.”
Canada has come a long way since the earliest days of rail – early passengers were fined for sneaking dogs into first class while canines are allowed on GO Transit – history is still being made, as growth continues.