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Niagara on track for GO service?
Falls mayor hopeful weekend train service will be extended to region this summer
Published: April 9, 2008
Source: The Standard
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Niagara Falls Mayor Ted Salci is hopeful Toronto-area tourists will be able to ride the rails to Niagara this summer.

Salci met with GO Transit managing director and chief executive officer Gary McNeil last week in a bid to convince him to support extending GO train service to Niagara on weekends throughout the tourist season.

"We're pushing for weekend transportation right away," Salci said. "We think it's a no-brainer because the rail stock is unused (on weekends)."

Negotiating GO service to Niagara by rail might be a bit tricky, he said. GO would have to work out a terms-of-use agreement with CN Rail, which owns the tracks into Niagara. "They place the movement of freight ahead of the movement of people," Salci said.

In his previous role as Ontario's tourism minister, St. Catharines MPP and provincial Transportation Minister Jim Bradley often advocated finding new ways to get people between the province's two largest tourism destinations - Niagara Falls and Toronto.

Contacted at Queen's Park, Bradley's staff said he had a series of meetings scheduled in Ottawa and was unavailable for comment.

However, Bradley told Osprey News earlier this month bringing GO to Niagara would be a good idea.

"GO Transit itself has done those studies ... and believes that in the future they at least think it could be viable to extend the service to Niagara and to Waterloo, and, well into the future, perhaps other areas in the province," Bradley said.

"There are some major works that would have to be done in Hamilton, I am told, that is to ensure you could bring a line to Niagara."

The time for that work may have come. In last month's provincial budget, the government set aside $3 million to overhaul the downtown Hamilton rail station, which is currently in use as the Liuna Station banquet hall.

Bringing GO links to two Hamilton destinations - one along the CP Rail line and one along CN Rail where Liuna Station is - improves the potential for a Niagara spur.

It's something the municipality of Hamilton has been pushing for, Niagara Falls MPP Kim Craitor said of the proposal to bring Liuna Station back to its railroad roots.

This shows there is a commitment and I just want to get the message out there that we're not just talking about things, we're actually doing things, Craitor said.

He acknowledged it may not be easy to convince CN to allow GO to use the service, but said if it can be pulled off, it would also be a way for us to get a feel for ridership and affect on the highway. Salci said if rail service couldn't be easily negotiated, GO bus service would help take the sting out of being stuck in traffic.

Bottlenecks on the QEW are one of many problems for Niagara Falls, which has begun to rely heavily on Toronto tourists for day trips as the number of short-haul American travellers has declined.

Visitors enjoy their stay once they get here, but the normally 90-minute trip to Niagara often takes much longer as travellers sit in traffic jams caused by construction, accidents and sheer volume. We're hoping to get traffic off the road, Salci said. One bus is the equivalent of about 50 cars. That would ease the issue with the ongoing construction on the QEW in St. Catharines that's scheduled to last the next two years.

McNeil did not respond this week to attempts by Osprey News for an interview via telephone or e-mail.

However, an assistant in his office said she is aware of McNeil's intention to try to meet with representatives from CN Rail, although such a meeting has yet to be arranged.

St. Catharines Mayor Brian McMullan said he was not aware of a meeting between Salci and McNeil, but said he supports GO Transit coming to Niagara, whether it's by bus or train.

I support any initiative to get cars off the road and reduce our carbon footprint, McMullan said.

He said while he'd be happy to have the three proposed Niagara stops Grimsby, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls tested in a pilot project this summer, reliable service over the long haul is key to bringing GO trains to Niagara.

It may be a leap of faith for the government to go to GO trains first.

It's less costly to go with GO buses as a start, McMullan said. But in the long term, I believe we'll continue to press for regular, frequent and consistent service.


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