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Why a Reverse commuter train option (Toronto -> Kitchener) won’t be happening anytime soon.. (or what is required to make it happen)

By shost at 11:41 am on Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The following are my thoughts on why we won’t see two way TRAIN service to Guelph and Kitchener anytime soon, despite any percieved market demand:

First of all, the argument for two way service is quite simple — a large proportion of workers commute to Kitchener-Waterloo to the various Technology and Insurance companies in the area from downtown Toronto or the GTA. This fact has been acknowledged by the Globe and Mail:

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/toronto/globe-to/torontonians-commuting-to-waterloo-frustrated-by-go-transits-new-rail-link/article2250390/

Does reverse commuting out of Toronto exist? Yes! Toronto to Hamilton clearly exists by bus, and partially by train/bus, as does limited commuting from Toronto to Brampton. There is indeed precedent.

But, what stands in the way of two-way commuter train services to Kitchener?

  • The Guelph subdivision (as the line from Georgetown, to Kitchener and onward to London) is Dark Territory. This means no signals and few passing sidings for two trains to meet each other in opposite directions
  • Dark territory reduces the capacity of a railway line (Density, how close two trains can be to each other)  and has operational limits to capacity
  • With the current environment in mind, there are now 4 GO trains, 6 VIA trains and 6 freight trains between Georgetown and Kitchener on a daily basis. I still firmly believe this is the highest passenger carrying capacity of any dark-territory railway line in Canada, and this dark-territory line is running at  capacity. So with this in mind:
  • The last GO train departs Guelph in the morning at 0732 and clears the Guelph subdivision at Georgetown at 0800
  • The first GO train westward to Kitchener would depart Georgetown after 0800 and arrive at Guelph no earlier than 8:33AM, and Kitchener no earlier than 8:55 AM
  • The return Kitchener-Toronto GO train would need to beat the first GO Toronto westward trip in the afternoon, which would mean arrival at Georgetown before 5:46 PM
  • The return GO trip from Kitchener to Toronto would depart Kitchener no later than 4:54 PM, Guelph no later than 5:16PM, and arrive Georgetown at 5:49 PM

As you can see, the current schedule is already very tight — there is no place for two trains to meet without significant time delays between Kitchener and Georgetown and this would throw the reverse (Toronto t0 Kitchener, and Kitchener back to Toront0) commute into dissaray, as the arrival and departure times required of the reverse trip is barely enough time for a worker to get in a full work day.

Furthermore, the proposed westward trip now has freight train(s) to deal with as they are operating between the GO trains in the morning and afternoon hours.

Lastly, adding a reverse commuter train would probably require GO to have two engines and 10 coaches available, as they would park in Kitchener for the afternoon hours and this would require a capital cost ($2.5 million per double decker car, $5m per engine) of $30 million just for one departure from Toronto.

Hence, in summary, the following  would be required to make room for reverse train commuting, and would be one of many possible choices:

  • Capital cost of $30M for acquisition of new trains dedicated to reverse commuting, for each train departure to be added, AND
  • Significant improvements to the Railway plant and property – in the least Centralized Traffic Control to Kitchener, at an estimated cost of $50 million (Refernce: RJ Burnside, Kitchener Expansion EA)
  • Addition of a CTC controlled passing siding at Guelph, or an extension of CTC to Guelph at a reduced cost ($25 million) to allow two GO trains to meet at 732 AM and 6:18 PM at Guelph Central Station (This will require the completion of the South platform at Guelph)

As you can see, the bottom line is a reverse commuter train movement is a minimum $30-60M investment, which is double to triple the cost of adding the eastward existing GO trains. If the demands warrants it, I would be hopeful, in light of our current Ontario annual road budget ($700-1B per year) that this is considered as an alternative to highway widening, but it most certainly will take time and may or may not fall under the existing EA (How long are EA’s good for?). Any reverse commuter train option would be years away from fruition if it was feasible of course.

However, in light of the fact that a Bus option for reverse commuting does not even exist today, this would be a good first step, and yes, the market demand must be proven before it can be considered for further expansion.

Please feel free to comment below, any corrections will be incorporated into the above as time permits.

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10 Comments

1
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Comment by Mister Dan

December 21, 2011 @ 7:18 pm

If anything, they’ll get reverse commuting in the form of GO buses. GO runs buses off-peak and going the other direction during peak hours on many of their routes already.

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Comment by Trev H

December 21, 2011 @ 11:48 pm

I’d like to see other options explored for reverse commuting. There is a lack of GO services between K-W, Guelph and the Hamilton/Burlington area, which is also a gateway to Niagara. Establishing a bus between these regions would not only solve this but perhaps provide an option for these reverse commuters, via a connection with the Lakeshore West train.

Just throwing up our hands and saying we can’t do anything about it isn’t acceptable.

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Comment by waterloostudent

December 22, 2011 @ 1:41 am

Call this a wide guess but I don’t think either of you actually live in KW region.

Mister Dan raises a good point about GO buses but they are only really good for the people who live in Mississauga since the full trip from KW to Toronto Union Station is 3 hrs. I have taken the actual trip and it really sucked having to wait in the freezing cold for the connecting bus from Square One to Toronto.

The most viable option currently for reverse commuting is the Greyhound since they are the only one with fairly frequent buses that’s available for most of the day. That’s what most of the students take to go back and forth between Toronto & KW (Unless, of course, you are a University of Waterloo student, then there’s also UW’s shuttle bus – Fed Bus). The greyhound buses are usually a pain, especially during rush hour, since the scheduled 2 hour trip (that’s the “commuters’ express” – not the one that stops at Guelph which is about the same as the GO bus) can range anywhere between 1.5 hrs to 3-4hrs.

I don’t have the stats on what percentage of the students travel to Toronto regularly but there are definitely long lines at the UW, Laurier and Charles St Terminal greyhound stops on Thursdays & Fridays and similarly on Sunday at the Toronto terminal.

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Comment by Linus

December 22, 2011 @ 12:17 pm

Your line of reasoning, shost, is very well presented. This is something that many of us have also intuitively known, given the misplaced priorities of the Guelph City Council and related parties.

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Comment by shost

December 22, 2011 @ 2:39 pm

Waterloostudent, more correctly, you probably meant to say that we probably don’t take the bus, let alone live in KW. I commuted to KW for 10 years and know it very well, a reverse commuter option would have been an option for me once upon a time. Since I live and work in Guelph I do not need to commute at present, but this will probably be my option at some point in the future.

And Linus, I’m not sure what you refer to with Council, I personally applaud them for putting together a multi-modal transit terminal and integrating it with GO transit, this is precisely what was needed in the least to support and integrate various transit networks in one easy to use location.

Other than the terminal, GO Transit and Metrolinx hold the keys of power in terms of future GO improvements, Council is nearly powerless in this regard other than approving or ensuring continued transit integration with GO and on-time performance.

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Comment by Andrew

December 22, 2011 @ 8:01 pm

Improvements to the Kitchener line will be quite expensive but there is a lot of demand as seen from the huge popularity of the Greyhound bus so it is well worth it. To add more trains you need:

- CTC between Kitchener and Georgetown
- Double tracking (or at least passing sidings)
- Speeding up the track between Georgetown and Kitchener. The line needs to be upgraded to increase track speed, at least 100km/h and preferably faster.

With a comprehensive upgrade program, it ought to then be possible to reduce the trip time from 2 to about 1.5 hours, and run hourly service like the Lakeshore line. This should require only a small increase in cost over the cost of running a few reverse commute trains. Assuming a one way trip time of 1.5 hours, hourly service should require 4 trainsets for off peak service.

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Comment by Sean

December 24, 2011 @ 5:23 pm

When the federal government gave $923 million to VIA Rail for capital investment, part of the money given VIA stated was for the rebuilding 3 rail diesel cars (RDC) for new service on the North Main Line.(NML Sarnia-London-Stratford-Kitchener-Guelph-Toronto)

This decision was in line with VIA Rail’s stated Corporate Pan for improvements to the North Main Line.

It was also reinforced in the Environmental Study completed by GO Transit relating to their introduction of passenger trains on the NML to Kitchener. An appendix in the study stated VIA would be adding three trains each way on the line.

Unfortunately this is not going to happen. So what happened and why does no one care?

Enter Goderich Exeter Railway (GEXR), owned by Rail America, who lease the CN north mainline. Their relationship with VIA Rail is one of conflict. They are in disagreement about the price VIA Rail should pay to be on the line.

Two times GEXR had complaints with the Canadian Transportation Agency to fight VIA Rail. Both times the decision has gone against GEXR yet there have been no increase in service or rebuilt RDCs.

The bottom line is GEXR doesn’t want VIA on their sparsely used freight line. They do not want to maintain the line to passenger rail speeds. CN the owners of the line have previously stated their distain for passenger rail service on their freight lines.

The current situation is grim. GEXR frequently delays VIA trains on the mainly single track. VIA’s on-time performance is suffering.

VIA Rail fare prices are too high. This has played a significant part in the ridership problems along the line. Greyhound and the GO train service are $14.60 one way into Toronto from Kitchener. VIA Rail is $23.00.

Connections to Windsor are worse with only one connection a day.

Let us not forget the root cause of all these issues. It can never be stated enough that we have a federal government that has no plans for passenger rail service in this country. The government grossly under funds VIA Rail.

The end result of no policy on passenger rail in Canada gives freight railway companies like GEXR (Rail America) the opportunity to run roughshod over VIA and has lead to the tragic demise of VIA Rail passenger rail service along the North Main Line.

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Comment by shost

December 26, 2011 @ 8:16 pm

Sean, but it’s up to VIA or the Government (Through VIA, or GO) to invest the money in the line to improve passenger traffic, not the other way around.

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Comment by Mark Dowling

December 29, 2011 @ 12:18 pm

Let’s not kill reverse GO in infancy by throwing around costs of tens of millions in rolling stock which will scare the horses. As it stands, there are hundreds of millions in rolling stock sitting idle in the two downtown yards each day because they have nowhere to go once they have delivered their one way trips each morning (with the exception of Lakeshore E/W). The first train(s) of the day from one of the other lines could be sent up the line to Georgetown and parked there as readily as in North Bathurst Yard. However, there is a capacity constraint at Humber Valley Golf Course where the overbridge is currently single track. This has to accommodate all the trains listed above plus the ones that start from Georgetown and Bramalea. As part of the Georgetown South/Air Rail Link project this constraint will be lifted and two-way service as far as Georgetown will become feasible. At that point GO can then operate buses on the reverse route of the 31 Kitchener/Guelph-Bramalea runs. Not ideal, but it’s a start.

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Comment by Mark Dowling

December 29, 2011 @ 12:22 pm

Correction to the post above: the bridge is at Weston Golf and Country Club – Humber Valley is further north.

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