In 2010, Niagara Regional Council prepared a report supporting Metrolinx efforts to bring weekday commuter GO Rail service to the Niagara Region. Council supported the City of Niagara Falls position that this GO Rail service would terminate at the Niagara Falls VIA station.
In January of this year, Niagara Regional Council announced its unanimous support for expanding GO Trains to Niagara. Mentioned in the announcement is the region’s 8.8% unemployment rate which “will require bold, transformational decisions to ensure a solid foundation is in place for the growth and renewal of Niagara’s evolving economy.”
On Friday, Ontario Minister of Transportation Glen Murray announced construction of the new St. James GO station in Hamilton, but there still aren’t any plans for Niagara. The major hitch seems to be getting the trains over the Welland Canal. Niagara Regional Council’s preferred method is for Metrolinx to co-ordinate with the St. Lawrence Seaway Authority for a train crossing on a priority basis. This would result in occasional delays when train and Seaway traffic could not be co-ordinated. Studies conducted by Metrolinx, the St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, and GO Transit have found that “proactive scheduling and strong communications can limit any conflicts between trains and ships at the Welland Canal to “almost zero,” negating the need to build an expensive bridge or tunnel crossing.”
This weekend, a CKTB (News Talk 610) report indicated Murray doesn’t like the co-ordinated scheduling plan as it is. CKTB referenced this tweet by the minister:
To which I asked:
While it seems unlikely that any plan for GO Rail service would detour south to Welland to cross the Canal at the Townline tunnel, this scenario solves the problem of Metrolinx having to co-ordinate with the seaway. The way it stands, these are our options for getting GO Rail service to Niagara:
1. Bring the trains to the St. Catharines VIA station and stop there. This doesn’t solve the problem of getting the trains into Niagara Falls, but at least it gets the trains into the Niagara Region.
2. Use Niagara Regional Council’s preferred option of Metrolinx co-ordinating its trains with seaway traffic and have the trains cross at the 80 year-old lift bridge (to be replaced) in St. Catharines. As indicated in his tweet, the Minster of Transportation doesn’t appear to like this idea.
3. Construct a bridge over (or tunnel beneath) the Welland Canal in St. Catharines. This would be very expensive. Estimates come in around $1 billion. This option is unlikely.
4. Detour the trains south to Welland and use the existing Townline rail tunnel. This would be an inexpensive option and these tracks take riders right to the entrance of the Casino in Niagara Falls. This option, however, would add additional time to the Toronto-Niagara Falls route.
There is no doubt that GO Train service to Niagara is needed. How much are we as a region willing to work together and compromise with one another in order to achieve it?