GO Transit commuter train service is expanding into the Niagara region, the work will begin next year with expansions from Hamilton to Grimsby by 2021, then to Niagara Falls by 2023. Along with adding over 30 kilometres of additional track, the plan is to add upgraded train stations as well as a new train layover facility in Niagara Falls.
This move by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation is being done in effort to manage highway congestion by providing more options for commuters through train options. Making trains more accessible with less transfer, GO Transit may become more desirable an option for commuters. Even by international standards the QEW is consistently suffering from an extremely high occupancy. This expansion will also help in the economic development of the Niagara Region.
This is not the first time GO Transit has provided train service for the Niagara region. There is Toronto to Niagara Falls Seasonal GO Train service that runs throughout the summer months, making additional stops along the way like St Catharines. However, the object of the new plan is to update existing train stations to be better prepared outside of the summer months to handle the influx of commuters.
Outside of the seasonal train service, GO Transit commuters looking to get to Union Station from St Catharines have to bus to Burlington GO where they transfer off onto a train. This process slows down the commuter time and makes GO Transit a less desirable option compared to driving which, during times of lesser traffic, can take half the time to get there, or options like Megabus which don’t have the commuter switching onto a different mode of transportation halfway through the commute.
Niagara Region Chairman Alan Caslin has been pushing for full time train service from Toronto to Niagara to begin as early as 2021 for the Canada Summer Games, or at least extend the seasonal hours of operation in the interim to help with the influx of commuters the games with inevitably bring; there are expected to be over 30,000 visitors into the Niagara Region for this event, bringing with it a solid burst to Niagara’s economy. The provincial agency that runs GO Transit — Metrolinx — however, has yet to budge from their initial tentative plan of expanding into the Niagara Region full-time by 2023.
If GO Transit already offers seasonal train service to the Niagara Region, then why not simply have it full time? The answer is that the rail lines that GO Transit use during these seasonal months are not owned by Metrolinx, but CN, and negotiations are still ongoing.
The upgrade to the GO Transit could mean a variety of opportunities for economic growth and tourism within the Niagara Region, as well as making schools, like Brock University, more desirable as it is already in close proximity with greater metropolitan areas like the GTA.
While the tentative plan for construction will begin as early as next year, the cost estimates have yet to be announced; this is in part due to negotiations currently being made with construction companies. The province alone, however, is investing 21.3 billion into advancing GO Transit to change it from a commuter train service to a regional rapid transit system. This will not only aid the Niagara Region but more northern regions as well, like Barrie.
However, while the Provincial Liberal Government is pushing for the expansion of GO Transit, there is a possibility of a further stall if Kathleen Wynne loses the upcoming election in 2018. Additionally, the Progressive Conservatives have not shown as keen an interest in the GO Transit expansion and may not wish to put as much funding into it if they are to come into office.
In the meantime, GO Transit has implemented more bus options between Burlington and Niagara like buses every half hour instead of hour between St. Catharines and Toronto, six new bus trips for Burlington to Niagara (Route 12) as well as an earlier morning bus from Burlington with stops at the Niagara on the Lake Niagara College campus to help more students get to class on time. This will mean that the first bus that would usually leave the Burlington GO station at 7:00 a.m. will now be departing at 6:35 a.m.