Feds pledge GO train cash

$435 million will help upgrade service on many routes, including Hamilton-Toronto

By Lori Fazari The Hamilton Spectator

Hamilton commuters should see more frequent GO trains and a new Via Rail station built in the city.

The federal government pledged yesterday to spend $435 million to help upgrade GO train service across southern Ontario and expand York region's transit system.

Transport Minister David Collenette also said that money will be announced in the next few months for Via Rail, and a new Via station will be built in Hamilton.

This is the first time in GO's 37-year history that the federal government has agreed to contribute to the transit system. The goal of the expansion is to get more commuters off roads and onto public transit, easing congestion on highways in the Greater Toronto Area and the Golden Horseshoe and helping the environment.

But the commitment from Ottawa came with a catch. The province hasn't yet signed on for a matching amount. And the municipalities involved will also be expected to contribute to the $1.2-billion cost of the projects.

"The federal government has ponied up. Here is our money," said Hamilton West Liberal MP Stan Keyes, who was at the announcement in Ottawa late yesterday afternoon.

"I'm hopeful that the province will have something to say about this as soon as the budget, if possible."

The Ontario government delivers its financial statement this afternoon.

Keyes said that Ottawa has been negotiating with the province over the past few weeks to secure matching funding for the transit plan. Ontario hadn't committed yet, so the federal government decided to go it alone and make its support public.

Yesterday's announcement came as a surprise even to GO Transit officials. Earlier this week news of the funding was leaked to the media. But GO Transit was expecting the official word would come at a joint federal-provincial government announcement.

"It's a pleasant surprise," said Gordon Chong, chair of the GO board. "It gets the ball rolling."

He said the province has indicated it, too, will provide its share. But he doesn't know when that will happen. And GO was out of the loop about which projects would receive cash until after the announcement was made and government press releases were issued.

"We need to still figure out what it all means," Chong said. "It'll clearly improve the quality of the service, the frequency of the service."

The projects being funded stretch from Toronto to Cambridge, Barrie and Peterborough. Some of the upgrades would clear the way for a rail link between Toronto's Union Station and Pearson Airport. And GO would begin train service to Barrie and introduce bus-to-rail service in Peterborough, Niagara Falls, Cambridge, Guelph and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Locally, there'd be a third track added from Port Credit to Oakville and from roughly the Burlington GO station to the Aldershot station. That would ease congestion on the busy Lakeshore train route, which clears the way for more frequent service. This includes the Hamilton-Toronto route -- right now those trains run only during morning and evening rush hours.

"There's so much pent-up demand out there," said GO's managing director Gary McNeil. "Every time we put a train out in the rush hours, it fills up."

McNeil said projects could take up to three years to complete. Environmental assessments need to be done before construction work on new tracks begins.


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