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.

UPX bells quieter

InsideToronto reports that the UP Express now has quieter bells.

The provincial transit planning agency relocated the ringing bells, described by residents as a constant dinging, to the middle of all UP trains, approximately 17 in total, and partially concealed them in sound-proof material. They also clarified to train operators when the bells should be triggered.

The bells have caused anger for years, but it is not clear to your correspondent why, apart from legislation, the UPX even has them; as far as I know, there are no level crossings nor easy way to get to the tracks.

Catch the fast train

Bruce McCuaig, the CEO of Metrolinx for the past seven years, has taken a new job at the federal government. Among other things, McCuaig oversaw the disastrous rollout of the UP Express.

The UPX had tanking ridership, spiking fares, and millions upon millions of dollars wasted in pursuit of the elusive executive traveller desiring public transit. To stop the bleeding, it was converted, at the province’s insistence, into an affordable ride for the proles. McCuaig made $361,114 a year for his services.

Kathy Haley, the president of only the UPX was ‘reorganized‘ out of work in 2016.

 

Weston station faces threats

If you build it, they will go away.

That’s the news Metrolinx delivered this week, when they released “long-delayed” reports that said riders would be so frustrated by Tory’s SmartTrack stops that they would get back in their cars. It’s a conclusion that threatens the Weston GO station, too.

 

Weston has been quite lucky to have both a GO and a UPX stop, but when the Mount Dennis station is finished in 2022, our luck may run out. Like the Weston station, the Mount Dennis station will connect with the GO and the UPX—but in addition, it will have a link with the Eglinton LRT and busses. Will Metrolinx have three GO and UPX stops within 10 km: Weston, Mount Dennis and St. Clair?

This week’s report suggests they might not. Every stop slows down riders and drives them away from the service.

Obviously, there are four options:

  • Closing both the GO and UPX stations
  • Closing the UPX
  • Closing the GO
  • Closing neither

Your correspondent bets that Metrolinx will close the GO station—and would close both if they could. The reasons are clear:

  • GO Trains accelerate and decelerate slowly, so an additional stop causes more inconvenience.
  • Ridership must be down a great deal now that the UPX is cheap
  • Very few people get on the GO in Weston going to Kitchener, and fewer still who would not take the UPX one stop in the wrong direction to Mount Dennis to get on the GO heading out of town.

Two solutions would be an integrated fare or fare by distance, so Westonians could get on the UPX and not be penalized for jumping on another mode of transit at Mount Dennis. Your correspondent doubts very much that Metrolinx will miss a chance to burn Westonians, however.

 

One year anniversary of low UPX fares

The province is celebrating the one-year anniversary of reasonable fares on the UPX.

Transportation Minister Stephen Del Duca was asked how much money the UPX is losing. He said—unbelievably—that he didn’t know.

I know.

9000 riders take the train daily, and growth is slowing. At an average fare of $9 (less for short trips, more for those without a Presto card), that raises $81,000 a day. The train, however, costs about $160,000 a day to run, leaving a shortfall of about $80,000 daily.

Annually, that’s about $29 million.

While I’m very grateful for the UPX, it’s worth remembering that Metrolinx was told by their private partner—which withdrew—and the Auditor General that this would happen. They insisted on building a boutique train in the face of all evidence.