Thursday, September 17, 2015

About that GO train to Bowmanville

I get asked a lot about when the train will travel past Oshawa. I have no idea. But I do know why it hasn't happened yet.

The last environmental study was done in 2010. When it was released, it had a lot of people excited (including me as the Courtice Station would be three kilometres south of my house).

I do know that many factors impact expansion of a corridor and one of them is who owns the actual track. The Lakeshore East expansion would put GO trains on a CP rail line (CPR). This means Metrolinx has to lease the tracks from CPR, build track, or work out a strategic partnership. This is just what I've gleaned from proposals I've read, comments that have been written over the years, and responses I've received to questions posed to various individuals in email.

It's also my understanding that CPR and Metrolinx don't have a great friendship - merely a rumor on the rail fanatics message boards but one that never seems to lose steam. According to GO's 2020 Strategic plan, the best method for expansion is to "own" the rail line. But as it stands, when GO has to "borrow" rail time, passengers get bumped because freight is king. Ask anyone who rides the Richmond Hill train and how many times they've been delayed due to freight traffic.

The report reads, "Both railways’ (CN and CPR) primary business is freight operations, with GO Transit remaining a minor and peripheral part of their operation and interest. GO’s operating arrangements with the railways must reflect the specific performance required for quality passenger services.

GO’s plans for increased service and additional routes, delivered with quality and consistency, require ownership of the rail corridors. As these corridors become surplus to the freight operation, or where freight traffic is active but not dominant, GO Transit will continue to purchase them and develop the tracks to support passenger services."

As I mentioned, I live three kilometres away from the CPR corridor. I can tell you that it's a busy line. Freight trains run at least one an hour during the day and even more so at night. I can't see this line becoming a "surplus" anytime soon, and one that can be handed over to GO Transit with no impact on freight service, so I highly doubt us Clarington residents will have GO train service by 2020.

On Twitter, people whine about GO Transit expansion ALL THE TIME, especially in the Niagara region. Provincial (and some federal) politicians  love to campaign each election year on a platform that they will be the one who will bring commuter trains to their constituents, but they never explain how they will do this and why they failed to do so. Unless that MPP is going to build you some track, there isn't much they can do if a provincial agency is being held hostage by privately-held, but publicly traded rail companies who make $3 billion a year (for CN). According to its 2014 Annual Report, CPR raked in $6.2 billion.

I'm not saying Niagara and Clarington won't get GO trains. Barrie eventually got one, so it can happen, but it all comes down to one thing - money. And unless the current Liberal government can start building rail corridors, we will always be second fiddle to freight.


Anonymous said...

for metrolinx to build track, they have to become a federal railway company and they are not. go transit is a transportation agency. metrolinx can buy rail lines but they can't build.

C.J. Smith said...

But they can purchase, which they have, as in the case with the Lakeshore East and West corridor. I was told Metrolinx is looking to re-establish GO Transit as a railway company. I have no idea if there's any truth to it.

The point of my post was to explain why expansion takes so long to happen, or why it never seems to happen. It was triggered by a conversation I had with neighbours last night as I walked home from the bus stop. One of them started on about the GO train station being built near Trulls Road and then we got going on about the upcoming election. When I asked about our current federal incumbent's plans (this neighbour is a dyed in the wool Tory) for supporting transit expansion in our riding and my neighbour pointed out that he's why the station is being built. I was like, what station being built??? And the person said it will be built by 2020 as that's what he was told by the incumbent. I was like, uhhhhhh ... nope.

TomW said...

@Anonymous: Actually, Metrolinx can build railway track. GO transit is a provincially-regulated railroad, and there's nothing stopping them from building new track on new corridors. (NB: only railroads that operate across provincial boundaries are federally-regulated).

The extension to Barrie... this corridor was previously one of CN's routes to northern Ontario (and western Canada). CN operated passenger service on it from Barrie to Toronto, and that service got transferred to VIA. Then VIA's funding got cut, and so GO took it over. This service was cut back to Bradford following cuts in the 90s.
CN abandoned a big chunk of the route in favour of an alternative, and the section between Bradford and Barrie was bought by the local municipalities to protect it from development. (Sadly, the section from Barrie to Orillia now has houses on part of it). That section was subsequently obtained by GO when they restored service to Barrie in 2007.

In short: the extension of service to Barrie was restoration of previous service, not a brand new service.

Also: Metrolinx has enough on its plate with all the works for RER to even think about investing a brand-new extension...

TomW said...

Also: the plan was/is for GO to build an additional track alongside CP's (single) track, to avoid conflicts with CP trains.

CP has a corridor with room for two tracks, only have one, but whinge about capacity...

Anonymous said...

Milton line also runs on tracks owned by CPR. We have been bumped and delayed many times due to freight traffic. We have asked many times about an earlier train leaving Milton (current first train departure is 6:23 a.m.), or at least adjust the first train departure time to an earlier time if we can't get another train. We've gone from a Union Station arrival that used to be 7:15 and now it's 7:24. Most days we are just starting to pull in to Union at 7:26 and lucky to hit the platform within a minute or two after that. We who start at 7:30 a.m. would like to get to work on time. If Metrolinx can't negotiate a 10-15 minute adjustment for an earlier departure, how do they think they'll get all day service on the Milton line? We've been hearing this story for years from our west-end MPPs and MPs (during election time of course and they should be back out soon at the stations). I've been riding the Milton line since 1996. Where's the improvement? Every additional train is added at later times in the morning. I was told by a GO Transit customer service rep that I should take an earlier train to get in earlier, and that was after I had just explained that I take the first train out of Milton. I told him, "I do take the earlier train. It's the first train from Milton. I have no other train. Have you not been listening?" His reply, "Oh." Now that's customer service.

Tal Hartsfeld said...

How does it feel, GO passengers, being "3rd class"?
The reality that, in society, revenue and materialism is always more important than human life.
Of course we've ALWAYS figure that anyway.

April said...

There was also the issue of the Knob Hill Farms land in Oshawa. This was part of the planned expansion because the line was going to move north and pass through this land (which was to house a station). The owners of the land were not particularly reasonable and the plans to purchase the land fell through in 2011. Expropriation of the land was completed in summer 2014.

In 2010 they made it sound like it was imminent, there were plans and it was happening. Then it stalled and there was little to no communication about it. That was why I was irritated - their communication stinks.

Iona Pintó said...

Daily train service to Niagara? Not in my lifetime, even with Gary McNeil orchestrating the strategy:

My money is on Bowmanville.

Anonymous said...

April is exactly right: another huge clue that the expansion to the east isn't happening anytime soon is that they weren't able to secure the Knob Hill Farms property. Another clue that they've given up is that they're finally building a parking structure at Oshawa station, and they wouldn't start such a big capital project (that will surely take many years, given how long it takes them to build platforms!) if they thought a move was imminent. We'll all be long retired before Bowmanville sees any GO Train traffic.

Nora1968 said...

Just to keep things interested, this morning I asked the fellow at the ticket wicket in Oshawa to explain what, exactly, they are doing to the Oshawa parking lot (there is NOTHING available online and the non-info we got talking about accessibility and kiss 'n ride does not explain the bigger picture).

He was nice enough to walk me to the window to show me that the current huge fenced off area that used to house most of the reserved parking (and is now several huge piles of dirt) will be the new kiss 'n ride (and accessibility, I guess) area. The station house is being torn down in favour of a new and modern one (with A/C! he was excited to note) to be placed on what is currently the temporary kiss 'n ride area. The spot on which the current station house sits is, according to him, going to be turned into track in preparation for the extension toward Bowmanville (which, like you Cindy, I am hoping will still include the Courtice station - not much farther from my house than from yours!).

He went on to note that apparently, as another responder mentioned, the Knob Hill Farms relocation of Oshawa GO is now seen as "too expensive" (probably due to the unreasonableness of the owner) but if the land was there has been expropriated, that might not be the case. Either way, why spend the huge amount of hassle and $ to rebuild a new station house in the current Oshawa GO location if it's moving?

Of course what this does mean is that parking at Oshawa will continue on a permanent basis to be reduced by at least the 300 or so spaces now expropriated by the construction and future kiss 'n ride area. So they'd better get on the job building Courtice and Bowmanville, since the "extra" parking options currently in place aren't cutting it - I had occasion to need to take the GO one weekday in the summer (slightly less busy) in the early afternoon and it was only by a miracle that I actually found somewhere to leave the car - EVERY SNGLE other spot was taken. If you can't park there after, say, 7 am most days, then that's not a tenable situation.

And before we go there, not everyone can/will/should have to choose to take public transit, or car pool. Durham and Clarington are auto-based areas and that's just how it is (for now, at least).

Unknown said...

Anonymous Anonymous said...
"for metrolinx to build track, they have to become a federal railway company and they are not. go transit is a transportation agency. metrolinx can buy rail lines but they can't build."

GO transit built and owns the line between the 401 and the CN from Pickering to Oshawa. Metrolinx built the line from the Kitchener line near Woodbine to the airport. They can and do build rail lines. The problem is the cost of purchasing rights of ways in built up areas.

Even if Metrolinx double tracks the CP from Oshawa to Bowmanville CP will still own the track and control operations over it.

Mississauga and Milton have commissioned a study to by pass freight from the CP line to Milton. While the line is feasible it would be very expensive and make lousy connections with CP's main line north near the Humber River and with their Agincourt yard. This will need to be built before their will be any major improvement in service on the Milton and Kitchener (Beyond Bramalea) lines.

Metrolinx will not offer rush hour service to Niagara unless they can get a guarantee from the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority for an uninterruptable 2 hour window in both rush hours.

There are federal railways, all those that cross a provincial or national boundary but there can also be provincially incorporated railways, entirely with in one province. The federal government can declare any provincial railway to be "of national importance" and make it subject to federal control, at least that is what the BNA act said when I studied in high school.

I believe that Metrolinx is not designated as an "Operating Railway" and therefore cannot dispatch trains or control their operation. This is why CN controls the operation of all trains not run on CP lines.

C.J. Smith said...

Wait... can you send me the cap ex file for the parking garage because I can't find that anywhere on Metrolinx's site.

VIA has been wanting a modernized station for some time. Metrolinx dragged ass because they didn't want to pour money into a joint venture if they were expecting to move the station. As it stands, THAT IS THE OSHAWA STATION and will ALWAYS BE the Oshawa Station. It took almost 10 godddamn years for Oshawa to see any improvements because Metrolinx figured we'd all be at Knob Hill farms. HA!

This is such a nightmare. But at least, at long last, Oshawa is seeing some changes. But I did not hear about a parking garage!

Anonymous said...

A parking garage in Oshawa? Is this for sure?

TomW said...

Anonymous: "If Metrolinx can't negotiate a 10-15 minute adjustment for an earlier departure, how do they think they'll get all day service on the Milton line?"
They won't. If you look on Metrolinx's page on RER and the Milton line (, you'll see no all-day service is planned. Ditto the Richmond Hill line (because of conflicts on the northern part with CN traffic).

Anonymous: "Another clue that they've given up is that they're finally building a parking structure at Oshawa station"
No they aren't. They are just doing a new station building. See for details.

Nora1968: "I asked the fellow at the ticket wicket in Oshawa to explain what, exactly, they are doing to the Oshawa parking lot (there is NOTHING available online". Yes there is. See . (Under 'expanding and improving'). It states
"The new station building at Oshawa GO/VIA Station will also include:
* GO and VIA ticket sales and waiting areas
* expanded public and staff washrooms
* service update monitors
* schedule status
* vending and ATM machines
* VIA baggage handling area
* canopy between the new building and the VIA pedestrian bridge"

Nora1968 said...

@Tom W: I should clarify that there was NOTHING available, as I said, online regarding the Oshawa GO station parking lot, anywhere onlihne (including GO's web page) at the point last week when I looked (this was prior to their sudden and last-minute missive re: the relocation of the accessibility/kiss 'n ride areas).

The destruction of 300+ spots, and consequent construction havoc, complete with police cars all day ever day, had already been in place for at least a week at that point, which is why I felt there should have been information available on line, you know, BEFORE it started.

VRS said...

When GO expropriated the Knob Hill property it included the building. They also have bought up a bunch of land north of the 401 to the east of Thornton all the way up to the tracks. It was all done in anticipation of the tracks splitting after Whitby, crossing over the 401 and then having a station in the Thornton/Gibb area and carrying on to Bowmanville from there. After that all fell silent. The next thing you hear is they quietly bought the current Oshawa station from VIA in July 2014. I am strongly suspecting that there is a change in plans in the works and all that money they spent buying up the land is for no reason.
For GO to cross over the 401 they were going to have to build a bridge over the 401 that would allow for 16 lanes of traffic to pass under it. How long has it taken for them to finish the pedestrian bridge in Pickering....wait...they haven't finished it. That fiasco has been going on since 2012, and it is just for a pedestrian bridge that doesn't carry trains full of people.
I am suspecting that the trains will continue to go to the current Oshawa station and they have to rework their whole plan.

VRS said...

@TomW- I have a co-worker who uses the carpooling spots at Oshawa. One day he went in and saw that they were all moved farther west. He thought he may have missed an email while he was on vacation so he looked back and there was nothing. He called customer service to find out what was going on. He was told the info was "posted in the station". I am wondering what else was "posted in the station".

Nora1968 said...

And, @VRS, I can tell you with absolute certainty that - at that point at least - NOTHING was posted in the station.

TomW said...

If GO is about to start works at a station, they should announce it on the train in the two or three days beforehand. That way, they'd catch 95%+ of the people who will be affected.

Cooper said...

It's official- Bowmanville is getting a go train by 2024

Jimbobogie said...

They're looking at opening the new route in 2024??? Folks, in case you didn't know, the CN right-of-way that GO currently uses runs to Bowmanville-the distance is approximately FOURTEEN KILOMETRES (not twenty, like they’re advertising). So why will it take EIGHT BLOODY YEARS to extend GO transit a grand total of FOURTEEN BLOODY KILOMETERS??? (In case you don’t have a calculator, that’s longer than it took to build Canada’s first transcontinental railway over a century ago).

Here’s a hint-it has nothing to do with laying more track or building new stations (gee, that’s sounds like a line from “Canadian Railroad Trilogy”) . That wouldn’t take eight years. No folks, they’re planning to build a bridge across the 401 to connect with the CP right of way that runs approximately one kilometer north of the CN track once you get past Oshawa. Slight problem-the Ontario Government hasn’t started negotiating with CP Rail for the use of their track. Second problem-the CP runs A LOT OF FREIGHT TRAINS along that right-of-way. In fact, CP makes so much money on freight that they got rid of their passenger service 40 years ago. The only passenger service on CP track now is the independent “Rocky Mountaineer” between Calgary and Vancouver-and the Rocky Mountaineer folks pay an arm & a leg for the use of the track-which is passed on to their customers.

So why are we looking at an eight year waiting period? I’d bet a couple of Loonies that the Liberal government has entered a sweetheart deal with labour unions to build the bridge-period. The railway is just their excuse.


Sean said...

They are not building a parking structure. Nowhere on their website is there info on a parking structure. The station and kiss and ride lot are being built/ redone that's it. It's Via Rail pushing for the redo of that location. It will be another decade before we see a station at Thornton at KHF and Courtice Station or the one planned for Martin Road/Hwy2 in Bowmanville. Why would they expropriate KHF if they were not gonna build a station there? Also they want to run new track on that railway right if way because it's closer to where the people live and Bowmanville has specifically set aside land and not let builders build homes on it for the stations.

Anonymous said...

As a resident of Bowmanville since 1985 I can tell you that every year at every election from every politician of every political stripe has come the promise that the Go Train will be coming to Bowmanville "soon".

Forgive me for being a tad sceptical. It will take another 20 years at least to get this done. Fortunately there are some practical writers here who understand that CP owns the tracks. GO does not. GO will need to BUILD tracks along this corridor to make it happen. That does not just mean the enormous rail bridge over the 401 it also means inumerable bridge extensions over every single road and creek along the route. Even if the funding was approved now the design and engineering work will take 5 years at least to complete and property will have to be expropriated to make way for it and the track and go stations themselves will need to be built.
The bridge over the 401 itself is a 10 year project even if it started today.So B'ville by 2024 is a pipe dream and nothing more than political hand waving. As for cost...note that no-one is saying ..."because they are finalising the details". In reality expect a 20 billion dollar price tag. Building railways ain't cheap no more.
It took thirty years to get the 401 extended.
We will all have driverless cars before the GO Train comes to our fair town of Bowmanville. That is the reality.