This is no way to run a railroad
Published: March 1, 2008
Source: THE RECORD
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The federal government's decision to fund a new train service from
Toronto to Peterborough while ignoring far more urgent transit needs in
Waterloo Region stinks.
For years, this region has built and argued a convincing case for
federal help for better passenger and commuter trains to Toronto, as
well as for light rail transit to connect its cities -- all to no avail.
There was nothing, nada, not a flipping red cent for any of these
essential projects in this week's federal budget.
But then, out of nowhere, Finance Minister Jim Flaherty pledged to put a
rail service through to Peterborough that will just happen to pass
through his own federal riding of Whitby-Oshawa.
What gives? Flaherty denies that politics played any role in the
project, which benefits not only his constituents but those in three
other Conservative ridings as well as those in the Conservative
provincial riding held by his wife, Christine Elliott. Flaherty may be
right. But if he is, how else can his justify his bizarre decision?
It can't be sheer need. While Waterloo Region's population has topped
half a million, Peterborough's is only 80,000. The federal census of
seven years ago estimated that 10,000 commuters leave Waterloo Region
each day -- most of them heading down the increasingly clogged 401.
Surely at least some of those people would leap at the chance to go by
rail. In comparison, the estimate -- and it is not necessarily a
reliable estimate -- of the number of passengers who would use the
Peterborough line daily is 900.
Flaherty can't have based his call on a business case either, because
there really isn't one for the Peterborough line outside of a document
cobbled together by Peterborough's Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro. In
fact, a study by GO Transit, the provincial agency that serves
Toronto-area regional commuters, declared two years ago it wasn't even
worthwhile to extend a GO bus service to Peterborough. There just
weren't enough riders and 70 per cent of the route's costs would have to
be subsidized. Moreover, the area isn't growing that fast. So why is
Flaherty willing to pay for rail upgrades, which Del Mastro estimated
could cost $150 million?
So weak is the case for the Peterborough line that Flaherty's own
department this week was unable to say how many passesngers would use
it, what it would cost, or even who would run it.
In contrast, there is a documented business case for better passenger
service on the north mainline that passes through Waterloo Region on the
way to Toronto. Likewise, the case for some kind of rapid transit system
within the region is so strong that the Ontario government has committed
to covering two-thirds of its cost. And a GO commuter service to
Waterloo Region would be far more feasible with federal help. But this
need, too, is ignored.
As oil prices and environmental concerns rise, Canada needs better rail
service. In theory, restoring the train links that Peterborough lost in
1990 is a good thing. However, governments need to set priorities and
those priorities should be based on the needs of the people, not the
politicians. Not long ago, Cambridge Mayor Doug Craig observed that
transit funding went to the places that lobbied hardest for it because,
"It's all about politics.'' Sadly, Craig may be right. But it is no way
to run a railroad.