High Speed Rail – bring it on!

I am going to take the opposite viewpoint to my esteemed colleague Adam on this topic. Here’s the ‘good cop’ version.

David Collenette was the man behind the UP Express, having first proposed it 20 years ago. His original vision was for a direct train that would offer a 22-minute ride from Pearson to Union that would cost $20. Without going into the details of what happened between concept and reality (read our back issues), the end result was that Weston in effect ended up with an all-day commuter rail service into Toronto for about the same price as a GO Train ticket.

Collenette has re-emerged as a ‘Special Advisor’ in a report outlining a vision of a high speed rail line joining Toronto and Windsor.

Lord knows how hard it is to get anything built in this neck of the woods. Collenette’s vision of the Air Rail Link (as it was then known), ended up as a huge gift for Weston’s commuters. Now on the wildly popular UP Express (since lowing prices), in rush hours, it’s standing room only.

What about the Toronto to Windsor HSR Line? It’s certainly needed. In fact, decent rail links all over Canada are needed. Part-way to Windsor lies Canada’s Silicon Valley in the Kitchener / Waterloo area. It’s too close to fly there (only 100 km) yet GO Trains take at best 2 hours. An HSR train would use much of the same corridor and cut travel time between the two city centres dramatically. Stops at Malton (Pearson), Guelph, Kitchener and London are proposed for the first phase.

The HSR route will use the UP Express corridor. Click for larger view.

What’s in it for Weston?

In 2021, the UP Express will add one more station at Mount Dennis and connect to the new Crosstown Line. Will this new station make the UP Express unacceptably slow? There is a rumoured possibility that Weston’s station will be too close to Mount Dennis and may be closed as a result.

The report itself recommends that existing services be ‘optimized’:

The Province should align provincial mandates to optimize rail services by directing Metrolinx and MTO to collaborate on the development of an Integrated Rail Strategy for the Toronto-Kitchener corridor, which would

•Clarify the mandates of GO RER, UP Express and HSR on the corridor.

•Assess ridership and service frequencies.

•Recommend how the Province might optimize GO RER, UP Express and HSR ridership to maximize the benefit to Ontarians.

One way around the two station dilemma might be to convert the existing UP Express into a commuter line and open new stations along the way. This could be a way of easing the burden on the subway system while preserving Weston’s regular and rapid link to downtown.

What will the cost be? Anyone who has done home renovations will know that estimated costs before a project begins are likely to end up higher in reality. What studies do show is that public transit adds value to a community if done well. No doubt changes and variations are up for grabs as they were with the original idea for the Airport Rail Link.

What about a high speed train running through our community? The train won’t likely be that fast in the city. Currently the UP Express hits speeds of up to 130 km/h between Bloor and Weston for an average of around 77 km/h. The report projects a somewhat faster average speed (just under 100 km/h from Union to Malton).

Travel times for the faster of the two HSR scenarios. Click for larger view.

The next steps will be more studies and consultations. This is just the beginning of what will be a long and ambitious project. While there may be pitfalls along the way, there will be opportunities and this proposed infrastructure holds huge promise and potential for Weston.

We do however need to be on top of this as a community and make sure that the people of Weston / Mount Dennis are heard loud and clear.

A shockingly bad train idea, terrible for Weston

David Collenette, the ‘brains’ behind the under-used, over-priced, executive-class UP Express service, has announced another of his plans: a $19 billion, twice-hourly, high-speed train between Toronto and Windsor. The provincial government made much of it today.Choo choo!

Collenette has two proposals, the cheaper (and slower) of which would put a 250 km/h train on the corridor that runs through Weston. It would run from Union to Pearson, then on to Kitchener, Guelph, London and Windsor. Collenette says the train would be profitable and could be built speedily.

He’s said that before. He was so utterly wrong that he should never be allowed near a cocktail napkin again.

  • The UPX was supposed to be $200 million.  It cost three times that.
  • It was supposed to be running by 2008. It took until 2015.
  • It was supposed to be profitable. It has never been profitable.

 

Moreover, there is already train service to every destination the government has in mind. GO Trains run to Kitchener and Guelph. VIA trains go to London and Windsor. The competition is brutal, too: flights to Windsor are about $150 and take an hour, and the Ontario government has also already announced all-day service to Kitchener and other improvements to regional rail service.

In the unlikely event that this high-speed line ever gets built, it will require undoing much of the work already done on the corridor: “a number of infrastructure upgrades”, in Collenette’s words.

 

 

 

Presto Cards at Downtown Weston Shoppers Drug Mart

It’s not a huge announcement (on Twitter) from local MPP, and Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Laura Albanese but it’s one that makes sense for Weston. Many transit organizations including the TTC, GO and UP Express are moving to join the rest of the world in using electronic fare payments. This is done through an electronic card that can be loaded online, by phone or at a retail location. The card adopted for use in the GTA is the Presto Card and while it’s had some teething troubles, it’s supposed to be more convenient for customers and less subject to fraud than paper transfers or easily counterfeited tokens.

Minister Albanese announced today that our local Shoppers Drug Mart will be one of only 10 Toronto outlets selected to sell and service Presto Cards.

Weston has several modes of transit in one location and this is the reason no doubt that our branch of Shoppers will be one of the first locations in the city to roll out the service.

New transit hub proposed for Pearson Airport.

The UP Express in Weston Station (file).

Pearson Airport is not only Canada’s biggest airport, it’s also an employer of 40,000 49,000 people who travel from all over the GTA along with many more who work in the surrounding region. In 2015 it was North America’s 14th busiest airport with over 41 million passenger trips.

Yesterday, new plans were unveiled proposing to make Pearson a transit hub for modes as well as flight. The idea is to eventually connect with the Eglinton Crosstown Line as well as bus routes from Toronto / Mississauga / Brampton and a possible high speed rail line along the Kitchener Line. Planners hope to be able to cut down on the 65,000 vehicles entering the airport daily.

This is good news because as traffic volumes continue to grow, new links to the hub will provide other ways (in addition to our fast UP Express link) for workers to quickly access the airport using Weston / Mount Dennis as their home. The airport will relocate parking garages to create the hub which will have an entrance on Airport Road. In addition, having a transit hub closer than Union Station will be a good thing for our area.

At the moment, the idea is in an exploratory mode and if approved, would not be in service until 2027 at the earliest.

UrbanToronto has an article on the proposal here.

Kodak Building to be relocated.

The Kodak Building as it looked in March 2012. (file photo)
The Kodak Building as it looked in March 2012. (file photo)

All 3000 tonnes of the long neglected Kodak recreation building will be moved next Thursday to a new location on the site. The idea is that the building will be preserved as one of the three new entrances to the future Mount Dennis Station. The station will be part of the Crosstown LRT line opening in 2021. The move will take about 90 minutes and a viewing stand will be available from which spectators may watch the whole event.

Later in the morning at 11:30, a community barbecue will serve food until 2:00 pm. Shuttle buses will pick spectators up from the No Frills parking lot every 30 minutes between 8:30 am and 2:30 pm.

Shuttle bus pick-up point.
Shuttle bus pick-up point.

For more information, call the West Crosstown Community Office at (416) 782-8118

The Future of UP Express

 

A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the adjacent GO train platform. (File)
A UPX train. Note the difference between the UPX platform and the (foreground) GO train platform. (File)

Officials at Metrolinx are looking over their shoulders after the unprecedented intervention by the Premier in forcing a rapid and substantial revision of UPX fares. When the Premier has lost patience in your effectiveness, other questions from the top may follow, such as, ‘Where else are they screwing up?’, and, ‘How many people did it take to make that idiotic decision?’

It doesn’t take much digging to uncover their inadequacies. Whether it’s the inability to coordinate a VIA Rail stop in Weston or their continued insistence that UPX needs to recover its investment, management has shown that they have a tenuous hold on the idea of serving the people (watch the most recent Board Meeting to get the idea) while ignoring the realities of transportation in the GTHA. The lack of a unified fare structure between TTC, UPX and GO and the failure to connect the UPX Bloor Station to the Dundas West TTC Subway station also come to mind.

Even before the outrageous fares were set, the whole idea of a boutique rail line serving business professionals was simply a non-starter. Back in 2012, WestonWeb asked,

Can you imagine captains of industry schlepping their own bags along miles of platform at either end and onto a train?

Captains of industry want to be carried (preferably in a limo) from door to door and don’t care about the cost as long as they get a receipt.

WestonWeb was not alone in predicting a tough time for UPX. Mike Sullivan, the Clean Train Coalition and many others voiced their concerns but the experts knew better. One wonders about the high priced consultants (expert experts) that Metrolinx was tapping into. How did they all get it so wrong?

UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )
UPX President Kathy Haley (screenshot from February 23rd Board Meeting )

No doubt there needs to be a scapegoat and according to media reports it’s likely to be UPX President Kathy Haley who was given the impossible task of making an unviable service financially self-sustaining. Her cheerleading for the service rang more and more hollow in recent days as evidence mounted that while people would clamour for a free ride, they weren’t prepared to pay more than a TTC or at worst a GO fare. Metrolinx head, Bruce McCuaig and Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca bear some of the responsibility for their stubborn expectation of the impossible.

What should be the future of UP Express?

The first should be a recognition that this is truly public transit and like all public transit should not be expected to recoup its cost. There are reports that the service will be pulled under the GO Train umbrella and that would seems likely given the recent fare alignment with GO. Regardless of the overhead, in this day of electronic fares, there are attendants galore and a ticket inspector on every train. Some re-deployment of staff to other GO positions would no doubt cut down on costs.

Will the lower price increase ridership? Probably, but the trains will not be full even at the new fare structure. Many people have suggested that the train be made part of the ever changing SmartTrack plan with additional stations along the way. An obvious site is Mount Dennis where a Crosstown Line station will be located. One problem needing a solution is the high platform of the UPX (see photo above). Regardless, many communities along the line would also welcome a quick commute to Union Station. That is likely the future for UPX but for now, Weston residents can bask in a fast (14 minute) service to and from Union every 15 minutes.

Transit Planning Meeting

Screen Shot 2016-02-16 at 10.44.34 PM

There’s a lot going on in Toronto transit-wise and especially in our neck of the woods. Six meetings are being held across the city to discuss transit – the closest will be at Richview Collegiate this Saturday.

Come and hear the latest transit ideas, updates on transit planning and construction going on throughout the city and contribute opinions on the direction the city, Metrolinx and the TTC should be taking. No doubt there will be considerable interest in the new UP Express fares as well as electrification of GO Trains.

  • Date: Saturday February 20
  • Place: Richview Collegiate, 1739 Islington Avenue
  • Time: 9:30 am to 11:30 am

Update:

Frances Nunziata says “My office has organized one to be held at the York Civic Centre on Feb. 29th at 7 pm.”