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Are we still on track for all-day two-way GO trains every 15 minutes?

In April last year in a speech to the Toronto Region Board of Trade, the Premier, Kathleen Wynne, made this momentous commitment:

Over ten years, we aim to phase in electric train service every fifteen minutes on all GO lines that we own.

And in her mandate letter to Transport Minister Steven Del Duca on 25 September 2014 she said this:

“Working to transform existing GO commuter rail into a Regional Express Rail rapid transit system over the next 10 years, with the support of Metrolinx and Infrastructure Ontario. The system will provide 15-minute, two-way electrified service and is the cornerstone of our government’s transit plan. Your goal is to manage congestion and move people throughout the GTHA.”

Tomorrow (3 March 2015) the Metrolinx Board will be meeting to get an update on progress from the Head of GO Transit, Greg Percy. You can see his presentation here.

Percy will talk about:

“An electrified service on corridors Metrolinx owns (and Barrie is one) with 15 minute frequencies in core areas.”

But what precisely is a core area? The original commitment seems to be morphing into something else.

We learn that implementing RER (Regional Express Rail) will mean 15 rail-road grade separations, 150 km of new track and 500km of overhead catenery. That adds up to a lot of work and mountains of money.

A 15 minute service will inevitably mean hugely expensive grade separations at Green Lane and at Davis Drive. So, is a 15 minute service still on the cards for our part of the Barrie line?

Percy will also talk about “future stations”. He says an “analysis of potential locations for new stations is ongoing”. But will he have anything to say about a GO Train station at Mulock Drive? Metrolinx told me last year there are no plans for one yet Newmarket’s Secondary Plan says otherwise. This is not a trivial issue. Land values are affected when sites are earmarked for major stations or terminals.

We also learn an environmental assessment is being carried out:

for rail corridor expansion from Union to Allandale Waterfront GO Station to enable increased frequency and bi-directional service.

I am left wondering how much land is likely to be required in Newmarket for rail corridor expansion. This, alone, could be a huge undertaking.

At a time when growth in York Region is slowing markedly* I hope this will not be used as an excuse to cut back on spending on the Barrie line.

Our councillors need regular updates on the Regional Express Rail programme and how it will impact on our town. Unless they speak out strongly - with their colleagues at York Region - we could all be left behind.

*York Region’s 2015 Fiscal Strategy tells us growth and DC collections continue to trend lower than originally forecast. A paper that went to the Committee of the Whole on 19 February 2015 says this:  “The Region’s population has been characterised by alternating periods of robust and more moderate growth. While the population continues to increase, the rate of growth has moderated significantly from the levels seen in the early 2000s. In recent years, York Region’s population growth has been less than earlier forecasts. Since 2011, the Region has been growing at an estimated rate of 22.8 thousand people per year, approximately 12% less than the 2010 Official Plan forecast for the period 2011-2016.


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