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Metrolinx tells us all-day two-way trains are on the way (details later)

To York Region Administrative Centre for the much anticipated Metrolinx presentation on when we can expect all-day two-way GO trains on the Barrie line. Leslie Woo and James Purkis will tell us about the “Regional Express Rail Service Concept”.

They arrive late. Was the traffic bad coming up? asks the jovial Chair, Wayne Emmerson, face creased with a giant grin. “Well, we were here before ten” says an unruffled and unapologetic Woo.

We learn a “preliminary framework of analysis” will be going to the Metrolinx Board on 22 September with firm recommendations on the location of new stations and grade separations in early 2016. I hear about the on-line “engagement plan” due to be unveiled in the Fall.

Much of what I hear is very familiar. It is a huge undertaking and we are all wondering how and when it will all fit together.

Now we are on to questions.

Tony Van Trappist

Newmarket’s Tony Van Trappist is nowhere to be seen but his understudy, John Taylor, is in his place.

First up is Richmond Hill’s Vito Spatafora. In his meandering way, he sometimes struggles to get his questions out but today he knows what he wants to say. When are we going to find out where the grade separations will be? James Purkis tells us Metrolinx and York staff will “mutually select” the locations towards the turn of the year.

Spatafora also wants to know what can be done to improve traffic circulation around GO rail stations. It the short term, probably not a lot.

Now it is Markham’s Frank Scarpetti, the highest paid mayor in Ontario, hauling in a lip-smacking $210,628 every year, excluding taxable benefits. He is mellifluous but long-winded. He butters up everyone, flattering them into submission before making his pitch for some concession or benefit for Markham.

He starts by lauding the Provincial Government which “deserves a lot of credit for bringing this forward”. Now I am listening to a paean of praise for Metrolinx. He asks them to consider extending the 15 minute service to Stouffville “if more dollars flow federally after 19 October”. Now he wants special treatment to eliminate a “train whistling hot spot” in his patch.

Now everyone is talking about grade separation including East Gwillimbury’s Viginia Hackson. She comes over as slightly apologetic calling for grade separation at Green Lane. But she needn’t worry. I’ll eat my hat if Green Lane keeps its level crossing. She also wants to know about the GO train weekend service to Barrie. Woo tells us there is a gradually increasing ridership. It has to be aggressively marketed.

Taylor wants answers (but doesn’t get too many)

Now John Taylor is making up for the Mayor’s absence with a series of quick fire questions, getting to the point.

He wants to know how many of the 170+ level crossings will be replaced with grade separations? Woo keeps her cards close to her chest. She is not confident at this stage giving him a number. But, yes, there will be discussions with the municipalities.

Now Taylor asks if there is a dedicated budget for grade separations. It is going to be humungously expensive. Woo says there is no budget yet. They are still working to refine their plan.

Now Taylor is talking about new GO rail stations. Are they funded or not? Woo tells us they will look for a good business case for new stations but she warns that more stops mean a slower service.

Taylor is now wondering about the future of Mulock Drive rail station – which appears as a dotted circle in the maps supporting the Town’s new Secondary Plan. It’s all hog-wash. If Newmarket wants a Go rail station at Mulock then the Town better start lobbying hard and come up with something concrete. Taylor wants to know if the land at Mulock can be safeguarded. No, says Woo. Not at this point.

Staff take the line of least resistance

Taylor presses the Transportation Chief, Daniel Kostopoulos, if other proposed new stations have been prioritized ahead of Mulock. I learn there have been discussions concerning those with some kind of formal status but “by no means is this list final or exhaustive”. No. No. No. I hear those listed in the report are just those at the front of his mind.

Why can’t senior staff tell it as it is? Why can’t they say Mulock Drive is not on the radar? Not now. Not ever. The Region’s top planner, Valerie Shuttleworth, tells us “Mulock is one we are looking at”. She, too, takes the line of least resistance. Say what is needed to get through the meeting and things will sort themselves out afterwards.

Now Taylor is zipping through the rest of his shopping list. 15 minute service to Aurora but why not to Newmarket and East Gwillimbury? No satisfactory answer given. What about adequate parking? And doing something about whistling.

A Delphic Wayne Emmerson tells us he is going to bring something to the table on whistling in the first quarter of 2016. How mysterious! Is the Region going to make us whistle free by taking on the liability for any future accidents or mishaps? Can’t see it.

Taylor obviously fears coming over as a sceptic with his rat-a-tat questions. Looking directly at Woo he tells her “We want this to be as much a success as you do”.

The program to bring in all-day two-way GO trains is still very much work in progress. But we’ve got to start making demands before the train leaves the station.

Scarpetti is already making the case for Markham. I want to hear Van Bynen, loudly and insistently, do the same for Newmarket.

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