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Two-way, all-day GO train service timeline remains unclear

Despite a 2031 date for two-way all-day GO train service being used broadly by the province, a direct timeline for the service through Guelph remains a mystery
20210319 GO Train in Guelph 3
GO train at Guelph Central Station. GuelphToday file photo

Call it the GO train guessing game.

Timelines on the Kitchener line, which includes Guelph, getting two-way all day GO train service have been murky at best. 

And despite some cryptic messaging from the province on timelines, a direct answer to the question is hard to find.

“By 2031, the province will introduce two-way, all-day GO train service, every 15 minutes in key corridors in the Greater Golden Horseshoe to connect more people to transit, jobs and housing for generations to come,” the province noted in a media release Feb. 5 announcing the upcoming launch of the One Fare transit program.

Guelph sits within what the province considers the Greater Golden Horseshoe, so when it says “key corridors,” does it include Guelph?

Up until now, the province has been mum on offering a direct timeline for the service locally.

In the 2021 budget, the province announced the service would be in place between Toronto and Kitchener by 2025. But in a Metrolinx document in 2019, the target was said to be dependent on a few factors.

Metrolinx president Phil Verster said shortly after the 2021 pledge that he wasn’t in a position to offer a timeline.

He told GuelphToday last summer a timeline remained unclear “given that the scope and timelines of future work phases are under development.”

An NDP motion last fall called for “a clear timeline and firm funding commitment” on expanded service on the Kitchener line.

It was defeated at Queen’s Park by the Ford government.

Ontario Minister of Transportaion Prabmeet Sarkaria was asked Feb. 5 if the 2031 timeline included the rail line through Guelph. But after waiting nearly a week for a response, a direct answer was not given.

Instead, GuelphToday got the following statement Friday afternoon from his office: 

“Our government is investing more than $70 billion over the next decade to build the largest expansion of public transit in North America, including across the greater golden horseshoe," it read. "This includes two-way, all-day service every 15 minutes on core segments of the GO Transit rail network by 2031.”

Several requests for comment from Metrolinx went unanswered.

A spokesperson with Metrolinx did confirm the south train platform under construction at Guelph Central Station will be done in the spring, but it won’t be open for commuters until track work is complete.

The next phase of the plan includes the storage track for maintenance vehicles near Rockwood, as well as expanding the bridge at Shantz Station Road.

There is also work to be done to extend the second track in Breslau and some overall track re-alignment through the corridor.

But as for the timeline on two-way, all-day GO train service, opposition parties continue to take note of the lack of clarity.

Guelph MPP and Green Party leader Mike Schreiner said the government keeps saying they’re committed to the service, but refuse to give a firm timeline.

“People who live in Brampton, Georgetown, Acton, Guelph, Kitchener and Waterloo, it’s deeply disappointing that we still don’t have a firm timeline of when we’re going to have all-day two-way GO,” he said.

He said the longer we wait, the more it’ll hurt the economy.

“I can’t tell you how many businesses in the region have told me how vital two-way all-day GO is to our local economy, to people’s quality of life, to post-secondary education,” Schreiner said.

He said he’s been told there is a lot more opportunity for collaboration between universities and colleges in the area, but one of the barriers to improving education for students, and doing it in a fiscally efficient way, is the lack of transit linkages.

“This is bad for our economy, it’s bad for affordability, it’s bad for climate action,” he said.

“The government is really failing to deliver all-day two-way GO in a timely manner.”

Likewise, Waterloo MPP Catherine Fife says Guelph residents are likely feeling the same as her constituents, a feeling being strung along for years.

“(We were) promised a two-way all-day 15 minute service, promised express rail, and even a bullet train under the former Liberals,” she said. “My goal as the MPP for Waterloo is just to try to get some clarity and some timelines so we can hold Metrolinx to account. Even on those measures, there’s a real lack of transparency.”

Her understanding is the GO rail expansion project the province is referencing with the 2031 date excludes the Kitchener line, including Guelph, Milton, Downtown Brampton, as well as east Hamilton and Niagara. 

All these lines, she said, are dependent on access to tracks Metrolinx doesn’t own.

As far as Fife knows, there are no plans for the service at the moment “because that would require an agreement with CN (Rail).”

But she is quite curious about the usage of the province’s broad use of the 2031 date.

“Our best guess is, because we’ve also had challenges getting clear timelines from Metrolinx and from the Minister of Transportation – I just wrote him a letter last week about this issue – but it’s interesting that they’re okay with that date, but they don’t want to walk it back and give some clarity around the 2031 date,” she said.

For now, the two of them – and many others – continue to wait for the answer to roll down the tracks.