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Six new commuter trains set for fall

Jun. 9, 2001. 10:37 AM

1,000 extra seats, single ticket for VIA, GO service

James Travers
TORONTO STAR

OTTAWA - Commuters in the Toronto region will get a break this fall with the addition of six more trains and more than 1,000 extra seats on rail lines running from Union Station to Oshawa, Kitchener and Hamilton.

The plan, to be unveiled Monday, will also allow commuters to use a single ticket to board either VIA Rail or GO trains at existing commuter stops.

Federal Transport Minister David Collenette will announce details of the program at the Toronto Smog Summit. The six new commuter trains are part of a plan to integrate VIA Rail and GO Transit service in the Greater Toronto and surrounding area.

In addition, Collenette is expected to reveal that the federal government hopes to restore commuter rail service to Peterborough and Barrie. As a bonus for skiers, the new Barrie train, if approved, would include winter service to Collingwood.

The move means more trains, more seats, more frequent service and easier ticket purchases for the 40 million riders who now use GO Transit annually.

Promoted as a modest step toward reducing urban congestion and encouraging commuters to leave their cars home, Collenette’s plan adds flesh to the bones of the Greater Toronto Commuter Strategy announced at the first Smog Summit last June.

When the new services launch in October, rail commuters throughout the region will for the first time be able to use a single ticket to ride either GO or VIA trains.

Those upgrading to the more spacious VIA trains will be charged an additional fee. That fee has not yet been set, but commuters will be able to buy coupon books to ease last-minute changes.

As part of the co-operative effort, some stations will be consolidated and VIA and GO will begin selling tickets through the same agents. Tickets will continue to be sold separately at Union Station, the Ontario hub of VIA’s national service.

The federal government expects the six new peak-time trains serving Hamilton, Kitchener, Toronto and Oshawa to pay their own way. The proposed Peterborough and Barrie trains would not initially be self-supporting but Collenette hopes to convince cabinet colleagues that long-term financial prospects, coupled with the environmental advantages of rail, justify the investment.

Federal sources say the transport minister, who is a lifelong train buff, is studying other ways to help municipalities improve commuter service. They say Ottawa is considering funding everything from signal systems to stations and improved parking.

To make the new services efficient, Collenette is borrowing heavily from airline industry practices of writing single tickets for multiple carriers, selling upgrades and using one service to feed another.

In VIA’s new fall schedules, the Oshawa-to-Toronto service will be an extension of the company’s Toronto-Windsor route while the Hamilton-to-Toronto train will continue to Ottawa and Montreal. The Kitchener-Toronto train will also be linked to other services in the Montreal-Windsor corridor, but with a longer stop at Union Station.

The Hamilton train, another first for VIA, will use the former Toronto, Hamilton and Buffalo Railway terminal to link the two city centres. Currently, VIA stops only in Aldershot, a suburban community between Burlington and Hamilton.

Passengers on the new routes, as well as those on trains serving a GTA catchment area that sprawls from Niagara Falls to London and Kingston, will be riding in some of the 139 new carriages recently purchased by the federal government from Britain. Without those additional cars, purchased for a bargain for $130 million, VIA would not have been able to provide the additional commuter services.

According to federal officials, the plan also heavily depends on improvements to Union Station. As part of a deal negotiated last year between the City of Toronto and the national railways, VIA and the federal government will contribute $35 million to the makeover of the historic building.

Those renovations are required to meet the demands of rapidly increasing traffic and to serve as the downtown terminal for the proposed rail link to Pearson International Airport.

In an interview this week, Collenette, who is also the political minister for Toronto, said eight consortiums have formally expressed interest in the $300 million project and he expects it to proceed soon.




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