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Rail link details hard to come by; Del Mastro says it could be running by 2010
Published: February 28, 2008
Source: Peterborough Examiner -  BRENDAN WEDLEY
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H ? Union Station, the rail hub in downtown Toronto G ? Agincourt, in Scarborough near Markham Road and Highway 401 F ? Steeles Avenue or Box Grove Bypass, in Markham east of Markham Road and south of Highway 407 E ? Locust Hill, adjacent to Highway 7, just east of Markham D ? Claremont, in Pickering at the intersection of Regional Road 5 and Brock Road C ? Myrtle, on the northern edge of Whitby, near the intersection of Regional Road 5 and Highway 12 B ? Pontypool, in the City of Kawartha Lakes on County Road 12, just east of Highway 35 A ? Harper Road in Peterborough; also possible is a location in downtown Peterborough

Source: Commuter Rail Report, October 2007, Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro

Via Rail officials wouldn't comment yesterday on whether it will provide commuter rail service between Peterborough and Toronto when track upgrades announced in Tuesday's federal budget are completed.

Rail upgrades would lead to positive environmental outcomes and reduce traffic congestion, Via Rail spokeswoman Catherine Kaloutsky said.

"The proposal to expand commuter rail is positive and we await further details," Kaloutsky said. "We at Via await further detail from our shareholder which of course is the Government of Canada."

She referred questions on the subject to Transport Canada. Transport Canada referred questions to the Finance Department. A Finance Department official fielded questions but didn't provide any more information than what's in the budget plan.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, the MP for Whitby-Oshawa, mentioned the project in the budget speech as one of the uses for $500 million earmarked for public transit capital spending.

Peterborough MP Dean Del Mastro has told The Examiner he doesn't think it's unreasonable to expect the commuter rail service to be running by 2010.

He estimates it would cost $88 million to upgrade the existing railway tracks and rail infrastructure to support high-speed passenger rail and freight service.

Canadian Pacific Railway has committed to pay a portion of the cost and Via Rail plans to provide passenger rail service, Del Mastro said on Tuesday.

Canadian Pacific Railway representatives could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The money in the budget would fund the re-establishment of the service Via shut down in 1990. At that time, Via cited the high per-passenger cost of operating the service.

Peterborough MPP Jeff Leal tells a different story.

Leal argues Via Rail, under then Progressive Conservative prime minister Brian Mulroney in 1990, decided to get out of commuter rail and focus on inter-city passenger rail service.

"Obviously there must have been a substantial policy change with Via Rail Canada as of (Tuesday)," Leal said. "This service that is contemplated is primarily addressing the commuter market and in Ontario GO (Transit) has been the best place to provide it.

"My colleagues at the provincial level are a little confused right now."

Del Mastro said the federal government is stepping in to provide a service the province has so far shown no interest in providing.

"At no point did I ever get an indication from the province that they were interested in providing this link," he said Tuesday. "If you look at the Places to Grow Act, Peterborough is not viewed as a priority for investment for this type of infrastructure."

Del Mastro could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The provincial public transit operator, GO Transit, looked at providing bus service to Peterborough as part of a study in 2006. It found the service would cost too much to operate since revenue would cover only about 30 per cent of operating costs.

In a business plan Del Mastro produced and released in October, he argues there's enough demand for the commuter rail service that it could operate without government subsidies after the initial capital start-up costs.

His findings showed the service would start with an estimated 903 daily commuters, saving an annual 469,560 one-way car trips to and from the Greater Toronto Area.

Leal used the Via service between Peterborough and Toronto from 1985 to 1990.

"Commuter rail service for Peterborough is something I've always been a strong advocate for," he said.

Leal reserved any opinions on the plan to revive that service until the federal government releases more details.

"We would certainly look forward to getting a detailed proposal from the Government of Canada to look at," he said. "It will be interesting how this develops."

The 2008 federal budget outlines the $500 million for public transit will be put into a trust for beneficiaries that make public commitments before March 31 to spend on new public transit. Money can be drawn from the trust over the next two years.

There are no details about the Peterborough-Toronto rail link in the budget plan.

That leaves people with the vision Del Mastro outlines in his business plan for the rail line. The MP stresses the findings in his report do not reflect the opinion of the federal government.

Del Mastro suggests the rail line could operate with nine stations, including two in Peterborough and Union Station in Toronto. Other stops would be in Scarborough, Markham, Pickering, Whitby and the City of Kawartha Lakes.

In the report, Del Mastro provides an estimate from a Canadian Pacific Railway director who argues it would cost $140 million to upgrade the tracks for passenger service. It would cost another roughly $30 million for passenger train cars, stations, platforms and parking lots.

The commuter rail service would generate enough revenue to cover the estimated $3.5 million a year in operating costs, Del Mastro states. Del Mastro has mentioned freight service as another use, citing local businesses such as General Electric, Quaker Oats and the ethanol plant being developed near Havelock.

Officials with General Electric Canada and Pepsi-QTG could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Rail upgrades would improve the movement of people and freight through the area, Greater Peterborough Area Economic Development Corporation president and CEO Andy Mitchell said.

"Upgrading our transportation infrastructure, from an economic development perspective, is certainly positive," he said.


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