GO Trains to Toronto Will Be Competitive

GO train in Hamilton. (Photo by Tom Flemming, via Flickr.)

About a year ago GO Transit completed its Environmental Assessment (EA) for a rail extension to Kitchener, and half a year ago the extension was approved. It still awaits funding for the necessary track improvements, though GO Transit has already been laying the groundwork for the planned Guelph station. Service at the start of operations (planned for 2011) would include four morning trains from Kitchener to Guelph and Toronto, and four afternoon and evening trains in the reverse direction. It would be able to add reverse-peak commuter trains if there is sufficient demand. However, it has been claimed that “GO trains will be slow trains”, and so it is important to give some context for the planned GO train travel time between Kitchener and Toronto.

Lisa Harmey writes that the University of Waterloo’s recruitment materials say (page 6): “Take the bus to Toronto for the weekend – it is only an hour away!”.* I’ve heard this sentiment elsewhere, and even believed it myself. But any way you slice it, the trip time between Kitchener-Waterloo and Toronto is closer to two hours.

By car, it’s a full 110 km from the Kitchener-Waterloo core to downtown Toronto. This trip includes many bottlenecks, such at the ramp from Highway 8 to Highway 401 and Highway 401 itself between Mississauga and Toronto. Then there’s getting to downtown, on congested roads or highways like the Gardiner. Once you get there, you have to find parking. You can avoid this by parking at a subway station near Highway 401, but then it’s still half an hour to get downtown. In rush hour the trip can take two hours by car, and I’ve had it take longer than that off-peak.

Greyhound’s fastest, most express buses are scheduled to take 1h 35m between downtown Kitchener and downtown Toronto; but many buses go through Guelph and take longer. GO Transit takes 2h 20m with a transfer at Mississauga, or 2h 15m with a transfer to the train in Milton on a couple of early morning weekday runs. Its direct express Friday afternoon buses from the University of Waterloo to Mississauga still result in a total scheduled trip time of 2h 25m between UW and Toronto. VIA Rail has three trains a day from Kitchener to Toronto, which are scheduled to take between 1h 35m and 1h 55m.

With that in mind, we can return to the subject of GO trains. The prototype schedule (see Appendix B of the EA) shows the trains taking 2h to travel the full 12 stations between downtown Kitchener and downtown Toronto, or less from the Breslau park-and-ride lot. Considering the congestion and hassle faced when commuting by car, and the bus/car trip times in the best circumstances, that’s not bad at all. When GO expands to all-day service it will prove quite competitive with Highway 401 for getting to downtown Toronto — unless, of course, Ontario spends hundreds of millions of dollars on Highway 401 widenings in a futile attempt to catch up with induced demand.

The north mainline track looks like it could use some investment. (Photo by Sylvan Mably, taken north of downtown Kitchener.)

Though I’m focusing here on the trip to Toronto, I should note that most of the commuters from Kitchener are not expected to go as far as Toronto — Guelph is expected to be the single biggest destination on the line from Kitchener-Waterloo. And lastly, it is a legitimate point that the trains will still be a lot slower than they could be. The track won’t allow for very high speeds and trains will have to deal with freight traffic. Increased investment in the line would allow for much faster — and perhaps electric — trains, that might actually be able to bring the trip down to the coveted hour from end to end.

For now, if we let go of the false notion that Toronto is only an hour away, a comfortable two-hour train ride starts to seem a lot more reasonable.

*Word is that the University of Waterloo will be referencing the distance to Toronto from now on.

10 thoughts on “GO Trains to Toronto Will Be Competitive”

  1. On paper, the Greyhound takes 1h 35 min to get to Toronto. But you have to be at the station and standing in line at least 30 minutes early to be guaranteed a seat. Coming back from Toronto, that’s 30-45 minutes in a grimy platform breathing in diesel exhaust. And despite the huge increase in demand in recent years, Greyhound seems to be incapable of scheduling more frequent service at reasonable intervals – so they can leave passengers at the platform for hours waiting for the next bus.

    I would gladly spend an extra 30 minutes on a comfortable GO train, if I could arrive at the platform 5 minutes before departure and be guaranteed a seat, rather than experience the indignity that is Greyhound travel.

  2. A two hour train trip on GO would be hard to handle. The seats aren’t made for comfort; the cars are designed to load and unload quickly. However, you get what you pay for. VIA will continue to operate. They’ll likely do the trip in 90 minutes, and they have more comfortable seats, but taking VIA will be a premium compared to GO’s fare structure. And I think that’s fair (no pun intended). We already can commute in comfort using VIA, but that’s a premium service. GO offers more options for a slower ride that will be easier on the pocket book, at least.

    There are also ways to cut down the travel time. If we can get the rail improvements funded (and GEXR to agree to them), VIA and GO passengers will benefit. Also, I don’t think GO-Kitchener trains will run local to Union. Unless I’m misreading the report, it strikes me that the rush hour trains, at least, will operate express from Brampton or possibly Mount Pleasant station. And that might even make more sense once all-day service is installed between Mount Pleasant and Union. People who want to go straight downtown get a faster ride, while those who want to access the other stations on the line can make a reasonable transfer, IMO.

  3. The unfortunate aspect of the Go service planned for this area, is that it will be using CN owned trackage instead of the more relevant CP owned route through Cambridge. There will be traffic headaches when Cambridge commuters attempt to get to the GO station in Kitchener. The more southerly Cambridge route is still close to Kitchener, and easier to access than the reverse. It parallels the 401 most of the way to Mississaugua, with very efficient “funnels” at the foot of Hwy 6 North and near the 401 and Hwy 6 South. The reason for choosing the CN route has to do with the fact that CP wants unrealistic infrastructure improvements at the expense of taxpayers, and with the intended plan, CN will get major signal and track improvements to their line, currently leased to GEXR. I would suggest that it was a politically motivated plan, not based in what would really move people most efficiently. The real story here is that the Feds don’t have the committment, and the province of Ontario won’t push the Feds to pressure the CPR to do the right thing and find a compromise, between CP’s needs and the needs of the public that supports them. Trains using the Cambridge/Milton route could stop at hwy 6 north and south, and then Milton to allow passengers stopping short of Toronto to change trains, and thence express to Toronto nonstop. This trip could take under 90 minutes. CPR already has additional tracks in Toronto area paid for by the taxpayers, supposedly needed for GO service expansion years ago, but currently used to store cars. That is correct..track built for 60plus mph, and used to store cars! Far less money is needed to upgrade signals on the CP from Campbelville to Cambridge 17 miles, than install signals from east of Guelph to London on the “back way” through Kitchener 75 plus miles on an unsignalled line.

    If the Government of Canada really wanted to address the issue of public good in these disputes, they might insist that disputes such as; whether or not CP’s demands are realistic, be arbitrated by the Canadian Transportation Agency after independent study.

  4. Ron, I don’t agree that GO trains to Cambridge are interchangeable with ones to Kitchener. The Kitchener-Waterloo area is larger than Cambridge is, and a large portion of the travel would be between Kitchener and Guelph. Even in a car, the Cambridge and Kitchener cores are not all that close. Many commuters, however, would not be driving to the station. And commuters to Kitchener (“reverse” direction trips being in the plans) would not be served by a train to Cambridge.

    That said, we’re absolutely in support of GO trains to Cambridge as well.

  5. I would also like to point out that while Greyhound’s average time may be around the ‘hour and a half’ mark, the early morning express busses make the trip to Toronto (from Sportsworld to Royal York Hotel) in under an hour almost every time.

    My work schedule has me starting work at 7am in the morning. Leaving Kitchener at 5:30 on Greyhound, I’m almost never late. Go unfortunately does not have
    scheduling or trip times that would make them a feasible option for myself and like commuters.

  6. I run a business out of 100 Ahrens Street West, and we just got notices that they will be closing Ahrens between Breithaupt and Victoria (if we’re reading it right…). I thought I read that the GO trains would be running from closer to King. Does anyone have access to the official details on this? Thanks!

  7. Dharlene – GO Transit is planning to start service from the existing VIA station. However they will be running 12-car trains and do plan to close Ahrens Street to extend the platform. When the multi-modal terminal is built at King & Victoria they would likely reopen Ahrens.

    Here is the page for the Environmental Assessment. Figure ST10 in this document shows the layout of the platform at the existing station with GO service. If you click on the K-W expansion tab on their projects page, you can find their contact information.

  8. I doubt ahrens St will be reopened. Why can’t you just drive around to the other access points? The railway crossing is redundant and costly to maintain.

    Once it’s closed, it won’t come back.

    Ron Bowman — the CP line through Cambridge is a much busier freight route than the north mainline. The CP line hosts approximately 20 freight trains a day, and the North Mainline approximately 6. You will need double tracking *AND* CTC for 15-20 miles (Guelph Jct to Orrs Lake) in order to bring GO services to Cambridge, and this will not come cheap. I would estimate $150 million as the cost. (The GO Kitchener EA is calling for $315 million for double tracking 30 miles of track to Kitchener).

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