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Passenger rail service in southwestern Ontario ‘went to hell in a hand basket.’ Can it be fixed?

The federal authorities has employed two consultants to look at methods to enhance passenger rail service in southwestern Ontario after pandemic fears of shut contact with strangers torpedoed ridership to disaster ranges. 

Transport Canada just lately introduced infrastructure consultants CPCS Transcom Limited and engineering agency WSP would undertake a research, beginning this month, of how to enhance passenger rail service in southwestern Ontario. 

The two firms will advise the federal government on how to shorten journey instances, enhance journey frequencies between main cities and provide a practice service that’s “extra dependable” with “improved on-time efficiency,” with a report due in 2023.   

This month’s announcement is a part of a multibillion-dollar effort to enhance passenger practice service between Windsor, Ont., and Quebec City, the place practice journey has been plunged into a ridership disaster that has been many years in the making. 

Pandemic ‘decimated’ rail companies

“The reality is the pandemic completely decimated the entire rail companies,” mentioned Malcolm Cairns, an Ottawa-based railway marketing consultant who undertook a main research of passenger practice service in Ontario and Quebec in 2020.

A Via Rail worker stands beside the doorway to a new practice on show on the practice station in Ottawa final yr. The Crown company has slowly began to exchange its growing older fleet of trains. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

“Some of the personal practice companies had been shut down and transit simply went from a mean of 60 per cent price restoration to 20 per cent price restoration. People weren’t travelling on it, clearly. Passenger rail service, inter-city commuter service and subway service, it all actually went to hell in a hand basket.”

Add to that growing older infrastructure and passenger vehicles, in addition to service cuts, and Cairns mentioned you will have a recipe for catastrophe. In reality, ridership is so low and Via Rail’s passenger fleet is so previous that Transport Canada just lately ordered that vacant coaches be used as security buffers at the back and front of trains in the occasion of a collision. 

Cairns mentioned in contrast to different industries which have rebounded for the reason that pandemic, passenger rail service doesn’t seem to be coming again, and it might take a minimum of a decade earlier than efforts to revive it begin paying dividends. 

However, Via Rail’s quarterly stories point out that ridership hit a low of 60,000 riders in the second quarter of 2020 and since then, has crept again up to 767,000 by the identical time this yr — for context, that is about 60 per cent of the service’s ridership stage of 1,203,000 in the second quarter of 2019.

Passenger rail in Ontario ‘at all times misplaced cash’

“It’s at all times misplaced cash working clever,” Cairns mentioned of passenger rail service between Windsor and Quebec City. “I strongly suspect that is simply one other research of what to do.” 

Rail commuters stroll by Toronto’s Union Station in June. Industry insiders say the pandemic has ‘decimated’ rail journey in southern Ontario aboard Via Rail, Go Transit and public transit in main cities. (Laura Pedersen/CBC)

Cairns is not the one trade watcher with a pessimistic view of whether or not one thing will really be performed to revive dwindling passenger rail service.

Paul Langan, a passenger practice advocate and president of High Speed Rail Canada, mentioned the southwestern Ontario research will mark one of many few instances the federal authorities has checked out passenger rail service in the area in greater than 20 years. 

Because the area has flown underneath the radar for therefore lengthy, he mentioned, the growing older tracks west of Kitchener are congested and with out new, devoted passenger tracks, there is no far more frequent trains can run. 

“They cannot match anymore trains on the present monitor. They mentioned ‘no’ to high-speed rail, which is new monitor, devoted monitor, so to me it’s simply one other research.”

The final research to have a look at rail journey between Windsor and Toronto was a provincial research into the potential of a bullet practice between Windsor and Toronto in 2016, when former Liberal transport minister David Collenette was commissioned to write a report on whether or not the province may construct and maintain such a service.

The remaining report continues to be obtainable on the Ontario authorities web site. 

Just ‘one other research,’ or is it one thing extra? 

“In my opinion, in Canada and Ontario, we now have many research that had been performed and no motion was taken. The newest, after all, was Collenette’s one, with a excellent plan to get individuals in and out of Toronto in a fast trend, so yeah, it’s one other research,” Langan mentioned. 

A passenger waves goodbye earlier than boarding a Toronto-bound Via passenger practice from London, Ont. Some trade watchers say it might take a decade or longer for passenger rail to get well post-pandemic. (Colin Butler/CBC News)

Unlike Langan and Cairns, Collenette, who responded to a request for remark from CBC News by way of electronic mail Thursday, was way more optimistic in regards to the research, saying it was a “good transfer” by Transport Canada. 

“It is broader than the one I did, which particularly handled [high-speed rail between] Toronto-Kitchener-London,” he wrote. He added there are various rail strains to take into account in the area, together with in Stratford, Brantford, St. Thomas, Goderich, Sarnia and the underused Canadian Pacific tunnel in Windsor underneath the Detroit River. 

In phrases of what the research will have a look at, it’s too early to say, in accordance to Benoit LaPlante, director of communications at CPCS Transcom Limited.

He mentioned the corporate would be completely happy to share extra data because the research progresses. 

A spokesperson for Transport Canada was not instantly obtainable for remark Thursday.

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