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Missing in action: any sign of transportation teamwork
Published: April 10, 2008
Source: Orangeville Citizen
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IF NOTHING ELSE, the recent federal and Ontario budgets demonstrated dramatically the absence of any teamwork between the two levels of government when it comes to transportation planning.

For example, the biggest surprise in the budget tabled by federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty was the announcement of plans to restore rail passenger service between Peterborough and Toronto.

Not surprisingly, the budget delivered more recently by Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan included the promise of a "modern transportation infrastructure," a key element of which was the "$17.5 billion MoveOntario 2020 rapid transit action plan for the GTA and Hamilton," but no mention of any GO Transit or other commuter rail service between Toronto and Peterborough.

Precious little has been heard in recent weeks about the plans for the service to Peterborough - even to the point of confirming whether the service is thought of as being offered by Via Rail Canada, GO Transit or some new agency.

As we see it, the two budgets reflect a total lack of communication, much less teamwork, between the two levels of government, as well as amazing inflexibility on the part of those in charge of the two rail passenger systems.

Via Rail has to date done virtually nothing toward addressing the need for some form of rail passenger service for commuters living outside major metropolitan areas. On the contrary, it has eliminated the few services once offered, among them the 'Dayliner" service that it used to provide between Peterborough and Toronto.

At the same time, GO Transit has done a marvellous job of providing high-volume commuter rail service along the Lake Ontario lakeshore between Hamilton and Oshawa, as well as to places like Georgetown, Milton, Richmond Hill and Stouffville in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) and this year as far as Barrie. (There are also plans to introduce GO train service in Bolton.)

However, when it comes to the services offered, GO Transit has been just as inflexible as Via Rail. Its would-be patrons are offered only two options, double-decker trains with up to 12 coaches, and intercity buses that in most instances routinely become victims of gridlock.

It shouldn't take a rocket scientist to discover that, particularly in the GTA, it should be possible for Via and/or GO to offer a different form of rail service aimed at the long-distance commuter who is becoming increasingly frustrated by the combination of worsening congestion and spiralling gasoline and diesel fuel prices.

As we see it, all that really is needed is a 21st Century version of what both the CPR and CNR offered on branch lines in the 1950s and 1960s to replace conventional passenger trains - the rail diesel car.

Both national railways introduced the vehicles (dubbed Dayliners by CP Rail and Railiners by CN) on branch lines across Canada, and today Via Rail continues to use the units on CP's main line between Sudbury and White River and on the former CP line on Vancouver Island between Victoria and Courtenay.

Locally, they ran on CP's Owen Sound division for about 20 years, and continued in service until the early 1990s on the CP line between Havelock and Toronto.

Built in Philadelphia by the Budd Co. between 1949 and 1956, the rail diesel cars can be operated singly or as trains. On the Owen Sound service, one unit operated most of the time but two were used on weekends.

Powered by twin diesel engines, the RDCs can accelerate quickly, take curves at higher speeds than ordinary trains and provide a smooth ride for the passengers at speeds up to 70 miles an hour (about 120 km/h). They took just three hours to make the trip between Owen Sound and Toronto's Union Station and roughly 90 minutes for the run between Peterborough and Toronto.

Under current conditions, there's surely little doubt that such a service would be popular, and not just between Peterborough and Toronto.

If it's true, as alleged, that a full GO Transit rail service would attract at least 900 Durham and Peterborough-area commuters, there's little doubt that an RDC service timed for rush hours would get enough passengers to fill two three-unit trains.

And as for the talk about $150 million being required to provide high-speed rail passenger service, initial use of refurbished Budd cars would involve nothing more than about $1.2 million in equipment (six cars @ about $200,000 each) plus whatever it would cost to return the railbed to the condition it was in 20 years ago.

In the circumstances, what's really needed is a demonstration project, and as we see it, the logical place for it is Orangeville.

Given some co-operation between the two levels of government, there's surely no good reason why Via Rail and GO Transit could not co-sponsor a three-year trial of RDC service between Orangeville and Toronto, with the Budd cars travelling either via Streetsville or switching to the CNR at Brampton, and going express to the Union along either route.

With minimal improvements to the municipally owned trackage between Orangeville and Brampton, and assuming stops at only Alton and Inglewood, the trains would reach Brampton in about 40 minutes and complete the trip to Union Station in another 35 minutes via the CN line or 45 minutes on the longer route via Streetsville.

In either case, the trip to downtown Toronto would be more than just hasslefree for the commuters. It would take no longer and be far less expensive than commuting by car.

All we really need is a little teamwork and imagination!


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