Niagara’s GO train expansion derailed?
The dream of a GO Train expansion to Niagara turned cloudy last month, thanks to a new implementation process being introduced by the province.
GO expansion to Niagara has been a long-held goal for local leaders of all political stripes, who see it as a driver for economic development, connecting Niagara to the GTA through quicker, more reliable and more comfortable public transit.
The GO expansion was a key component of former regional chair Alan Caslin’s plans. Not only was he assuring everyone the train service would be running by 2023, he was pushing for the expansion to be in place by 2021, in time for the Canada Summer Games.
But late last week, a letter from Metrolinx, the organization which operates GO, said the “delivery process” of new GO stations — including the planned station in Grimsby — has been halted. The letter, citing a recent statement by Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek, said the provincial government is seeking third-party investment to build new GO stations.
Government sources told The Standard that adopting a new “market based” approach to building stations was announced as a priority last week with little fanfare or advance notice. Underpinning the idea is the reality the provincial government no longer wants to fund, own and operate GO stations and wants private sector business as partners and stations integrated with commercial and residential development, the sources say.
Progressive Conservative government support for GO expansion to Niagara has always seemed somewhat cool. Throughout the provincial election in the spring, questions swirled. During an April visit to Welland in the midst of the campaign, PC Leader Doug Ford said he’d “want to review the plan,” before supporting it. He later clarified his position as one of support, but uncertainty as to his commitment to Niagara GO has been there from the outset.
In October, a private member’s motion by Niagara Centre NDP MPP Jeff Burch, supporting Niagara GO, received all-party support. The issue appeared settled.
Now, the fate of GO service to the peninsula looks shaky.
The office of Niagara West MPP Sam Oosterhoff, who last week didn’t respond to interview requests from The Standard, issued a media release Monday, stressing the government talking points but not really answering any of the questions the new Metrolinx plan raises. “This is good news for taxpayers here in Ontario,” said Oosterhoff in the release, pointing to savings that can be had by having third-party entities pay for the new stations. He also made the claim that involving third parties will speed up the process, since several new stations can be built at the same time.
But key issues remain unresolved.
What happens to GO expansion to Niagara if the station sites, which have already been identified, are unsuitable for multi-use development? The Niagara GO project is now in the late planning phases for station design. The proposed stations in the current GO Niagara plan, approved under the previous Liberal government, were designed with the assumption they were going to be entirely built and funded with public money and they may not be compatible with development beyond the stations and parking lots.
Will new sites have to be found?
And what happens if no private sector investor comes forward to fund these stations and the related projects? How will the stations be paid for? Will the province go ahead with the expansion anyway or cancel it altogether?
We don’t know because nobody has been willing to answer these very basic questions.
GO service to Niagara may not be dead. But until someone addresses these issues, we have to assume hopes the train will arrive on time in 2023 are well off the rails.