The provincial government is launching a new rail link between London and Toronto that could revolutionize the way residents of southwestern Ontario get to work – as long as they don’t mind spending eight hours a day on their daily commute .
Wednesday, the Ministry of Transport plans unveiled for a GO Transit London-Toronto weekday pilot service that will consist of two daily trips of approximately four hours each way.
Timetables have yet to be finalized, but trains are expected to leave London just after 5 a.m. and arrive at Union Station in Toronto after 9:00 a.m., with return trips departing from Union at around 4:15 p.m. and arriving at around 8:15 p.m.
Service is slated to start on October 18 and will see GO venture beyond its traditional mandate to operate a commuter train in the Greater Toronto Area to provide intercity service between two of Ontario’s largest municipalities.
The province estimates that the pilot project will cost around $ 2.6 million per year, although it is unclear how long it will take. Ticket prices were not announced Thursday afternoon.
In a press release, Associate Transport Minister Stan Cho predicted that the London service would provide “another option that will benefit individuals, families and workers” in southwestern Ontario, and said that Ontario’s PC government “is delivering on its promise to support local communities and reduce congestion through a better connected transit system.”
But some transportation experts have questioned who would use such an infrequent and slow service.
“I’m not sure what this is for,” said Eric Miller, professor of civil engineering and director of the University of Toronto’s Transportation Research Institute.
“If you’re just thinking of trying to connect London to Toronto, one train a day each way, four hours, that doesn’t make sense, I’m sorry. “
He noted that VIA Rail already offers faster and more frequent service between London and Toronto. The national rail operator offers six trains on weekdays between the two cities, and most trips are less than two and a half hours. One-way tickets cost as little as $ 37.
While the provincial government says the pilot will serve users in small communities between London and Toronto, Miller said it was not clear that there is enough demand in these locations to justify the high expenses associated with the operation of more rail services. He said adding bus trips to smaller towns could provide more frequent and better service at a much lower cost.
“I don’t know what sort of analysis was done in there. Probably not much, ”Miller said. He added that he cannot be sure what drives the government, but “transportation is always political”, and the plan may “look good to voters in southwestern Ontario.”
The London service would be an extension of existing routes on the Kitchener GO line, and no additional trains would be added, according to Metrolinx, which oversees GO. Between London and Union, there would be new stops at St. Marys and Stratford, as well as stations on the Kitchener line already served by GO.
To extend its service to London, GO is partnering with VIA and CN to use their tracks and stations. The ministry said trips would take longer than most VIA services, in part because GO service will follow a less direct north route and CN’s track along that corridor has speed limits.
Although the extension is based on a draft transportation plan for southwestern Ontario released in January 2020, the Ministry of Transportation has confirmed that it has yet to produce a business case showing that the service is warranted. But the government maintains that it is necessary.
“The people of southwestern Ontario deserve better access to a safe and reliable transportation system. Our government knows that Southwestern Ontario is a vibrant destination with the potential to grow further, ”ministry spokesperson Nicholas Rodrigues said in an email.
He said the service is expected to serve 25,000 passengers per year at the three new GO stops in London, Stratford and St. Marys, a projection that takes into account less use of public transport due to COVID-19. By comparison, before the pandemic, TTC’s busiest streetcar line, King St., had 84,000 boardings every day.
Rodrigues said that in addition to improving connections between London, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph and intermediate points, the new service will be used by post-secondary students at Fanshawe College, Wilfred Laurier University, the University of Waterloo and other schools, and provide “more options for traveling to and from Toronto for things like occasional business meetings, appointments or entertainment”.
Murtaza Haider, professor of data science and property management at Ryerson University, agreed with Miller that there might not be an immediate benefit to London’s GO service. But he argued that in the long run, it’s a good idea to provide more transportation links between smaller communities and the Toronto area, especially since living in Canada’s largest city has become so Dear.
“You have to make better connections with these satellite cities, hoping that one day … people will have a chance to move to these affordable neighborhoods and these affordable cities” while working in Toronto, he said.