We are crying out for a fast and frequent GO train service to Toronto.

Here in Newmarket, a town earmarked for explosive population growth, transit should become a touchstone issue – in the way it has in Kitchener-Waterloo.

All the political parties are talking about all-day two way GO trains but is it just the usual election hype? Or, this time, are the Parties serious?

The Liberal Platform

In their 2014 Platform, published on Sunday, the Liberals promise to deliver all-day GO Train service “to more communities”. They say they will spend $29 billion over the next decade

“for investments in transit and transportation infrastructure projects across the province… This investment will introduce train service every 15 minutes on all GO lines. It will mean less congestion on the roads and less time spent on the train platform.”

Of course, we have been here before. In their 2011 platform, the Ontario Liberals declared: 

“In the next phase of the Ontario Liberal Plan, we’ll expand service by delivering full-day, two-way GO train service on all corridors – that’s the equivalent of 71 million fewer car trips annually.”

Progressive Conservatives want to "expand transit"

The PC 2014 platform promises to:

“expand our highways by fixing bottlenecks throughout the region. And we will expand GO Transit with more rush hour service, more express trains, more all-day, two-way service and a more superior customer experience.”

Hudak would stick with the old diesel Puffing Billies and abandon Liberal plans for electrification. Here he is explaining his vision for transit on youtube.

NDP has two priorities but is otherwise unspecific

Just like the Liberals, the NDP says it will earmark $29 billion over 10 years for transit and transportation projects across the Province “and begin flowing funds immediately”. However, the NDP’s priority will be all-day two-way GO trains to Kitchener Waterloo and an all years round daily service to St Catharines and Niagara Falls.

To vote NDP on the strength of their plans for transit would be an act of faith.

Two-way all-day service will be introduced within 10-15 years say Town's outside consultants

As part of its Secondary Plan process, the Town of Newmarket commissioned a Transportation Study from consultants GDH. The Study, which is referred to in the draft Secondary Plan published last September, was only made public in April 2014. Newmarket’s planners and others from the Region have been fine-tuning it for months. On GO Train frequency it says:

GO Transit service is currently at 2 trains per hour (5 trains during peak period) in the peak direction during the AM and PM peak periods. Based on Metrolinx’s Big Move transit plan, GO Rail service through Newmarket is expected to increase significantly from two trains per hour in the peak direction to 3 peak direction trains by 2021 and 4 peak direction trains by 2031. Furthermore, two-way all-day service will be introduced within 10-15 years (before 2031). Metrolinx has advised that the tracks will have to be doubled to Newmarket and beyond, to accommodate this service improvement.

This begs a number of questions. If Metrolinx believes the tracks will have to be doubled to Newmarket, is the present railway corridor wide enough to carry a second track?  What preparatory work has been done?

Newmarket’s draft secondary plan also refers to the proposed new park and ride GO train station at Mulock Drive. Where are we on that? How does it fit into the grand scheme of things?

Rob Prentice explains

Rob Prentice, the Town’s Commissioner for Development and Infrastructure, told the special public meeting on the revised draft secondary plan on 28 April 2014:

“…GO has been working on an operational plan for a couple of years now. They have been aiming towards more frequent service. All day service was something that was only recently mentioned at a provincial level and it didn’t specifically say which lines. But they have looked at expansion to all-day service and had a target of, I think, their last plan of 2020. So it is some years off and in those plans double tracking isn’t always necessary. Maybe in some lengths of the railway corridor but not through every location. So it doesn’t necessarily mean double tracking.

 He went on:

The (new proposed) station at Mulock has been in GO’s plans for a number of years, certainly as long as I can remember so it has shown up in their long range plans for a very long time as do others. The regional official plan. As others do. At Bloomington. So they are very long range plans. The specifics around them at this time are not very clear. They are general long-range plans. They don’t have specific sites or dates.

It all seems a bit up-in-the-air to me. If the Town's top expert on infrastructure and development doesn’t know what’s happening what chance is there for the rest of us?

Last month I wrote to Bruce McCuaig, the Chief Executive of Metrolinx, on the dual tracking issue and on the proposed new rail station at Mulock.

Maybe he can shed some light on things - even if the politicians can’t or won’t.

What the Parties say about the Ontario Municipal Board

Newmarket is a town on steroids.

We are growing fast.  And we know from bitter experience that developers appeal to the OMB at the drop of a hat if their plans are delayed or challenged by the Town.

OMB rulings can have a profound impact on our neighbourhoods, changing them forever. 

Yet none of the main political parties wants to get rid of the OMB despite flaws that are self evident. The rulings don't follow precedent and can be capricious. The appointed adjudicators - some good, some woefully poor - need not have any legal training yet the OMB operates with many of the formal trappings of a Court of Law.

The Ontario Liberal Government went out to public consultation on land use planning some months ago but specifically did not include the Ontario Municipal Board in its remit.

The Liberals boast about introducing “award-win­ning”  land use planning legislation that "encourages smart growth and protects green spaces for future generations". Given what happened to Glenway, how can they say this and keep a straight face?

The Liberals promise legislation to

Enhance respect and protection for local official plans when municipalities do comprehensive, up-front planning and zoning.

Reduce the number of development applications that go to the Ontario Municipal Board.

Ensure citizens are consulted sooner and that there is more citizen input into the land use planning process.

You can take what you want from these pledges. Elasticity is built in.

Hudak’s Progressive Conservatives say in their Paths to Prosperity document, Building Great Cities

The intensification demands of provincial planning should not override local decision-making. We will retain the Ontario Municipal Board to balance the concerns of individual citizens, developers and cities.

I am not entirely sure where that contorted logic leaves us. At the end of the day, who calls the shots?

Andrea Horwath’s slender “Plan That Makes Sense” says nothing about the OMB.

Yet, in the last Parliament, the NDP MPP Rosario Marchese introduced a Private Members Bill that would remove OMB jurisdiction from the City of Toronto. It died with the Parliament.

So there is a very real issue about the OMB.

But one the NDP is unwilling to address in its election platform.


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