Observations from GO Niagara

Robert Wightman rode the GO service to and from Niagara Falls today (July 1), and sends the following comments.

I rode the second GO train to Niagara today — 650 passengers.  The third train ran with 270.  GO is running ten car trains so that they do not need to make and break train sets but they are only using the eight cars closest to the locomotive because St. Catharines appears to only have an eight car platform while Niagara only has a five car platform; they stop the train twice.

GO has put in proper platforms including handicap mini platform at St. Catharines and Niagara.  There is room to lengthen the Niagara platform but there is some construction going on there. It appears that they are putting in a wayside power connection at Niagara, probably for VIA.

GO has not done a Mickey Mouse job at these two stations as they have put in new platform lighting and a proper and permanent mini platform.  It appears as if GO wants to make this a permanent run.  They were running a buy-one-get-one-free promotion today so you could buy a one way ticket and use it as a return ticket.  Toronto to Niagara and return cost $15.90 instead of $35.80 on VIA.

GO pulled out all the stops as they had a GO crew and a CN crew in the engine because GO crews are not current on the Grimsby Sub.  They also had two CSA’s (Customer Service Agents or door operators,) and two or three Special Constables to make sure everything ran smoothly.  They did not check tickets in either direction on my two trains.

I was surprised at the number of people who got on both ways at St. Catharines.  Considering the amount of money that GO has put into platforms and lighting at these two stations, I bet that they will start running two trains in from Niagara in the morning and out in the afternoon sometime this fall.  The trains are in the new Lakeshore West timetable and will run on Saturdays, Sundays and Holidays until Oct. 12.  It would not cost them any new equipment but they would probably need to put in a yard at Niagara to store the trains overnight.

Number 98 the 17:25 Amtrak/VIA train to Toronto was 1h45 minutes late as US homeland security decided to check what every one on the train was exporting from the US.  It was probably a not so subtle hint to keep your vacation money in the US.  This caused a 1h05 delay to the GO train into Niagara at 18:15 as it had to wait for the Amtrack train to clear Canadian Border Security Agency check.  Amtrak/VIA did not pull into the second track even though one Niagara person who was apparently instrumental in setting up the GO excursion train said they were supposed to as part of the contingency set up for this scenario. The VIA agent said the Customs people had refused in the past to check trains on this track as they thought that it was dangerous to cross track one to get to track two even if the passengers had to do it.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how many people were riding the train. Once GO gets its operation down pat to the point where they can run three man crews this should be a money maker as well as a boon to tourism in Niagara and Toronto.  Perhaps they could consider doing this for Stratford to improve tourism there as well as getting nameless transit commentators to their hotel before they go to the theatre.

Running this type of service has a low cost to GO as the equipment is sitting around all weekend doing nothing so they do not need a large passenger volume to cover their costs.  With eight cars to carry 650 passengers the train was not crowded but it still carried enough to cover its marginal costs.

It was educational to compare the GO and the VIA Amtrak service as they loaded at Niagara.  The VIA Amtrak trains loaded about 25 people through one narrow door for about 7 minutes.  GO loaded close to 500 passenger through 10 double width doors, including a number of bicycles, in about two minutes and these were mainly people who do not ride any train normally.  VIA and Amtrak should scrap their existing equipment and replace it with something like the Bombardier bi-levels that can load and unload so much faster with their low level double width doors.

If the US security folks want to see people spending money south of the border, they should be happy to see all sorts of US goodies in travellers’ arms going back across the border to Canada.  Of course how much of that stuff was actually made in the USA and how much elsewhere is another problem.  Conflicts in operations like this need to be worked out.

It’s good to hear that the train did well on its first day although the effect of full fares needs to be seen.

As for cultural events, it’s still a pain in the butt to get to Niagara-on-the-Lake.  Stratford, for me, is a weekday jaunt.  The city would love to see GO run service there regularly and has proposed the largely vacant yard at Stratford as a GO facility, but it’s quite a jaunt west of Kitchener.

The problem on that line is that the arrival time of the morning train is now just late enough that catching a matinee isn’t a sure thing.  I doubt GO will be running midday trains that far from Toronto any day soon.

50 thoughts on “Observations from GO Niagara

  1. I rode GO’s train service from Oakville to St. Catharines this past Sunday and I was also surprised by the amount of people on the train.

    When I bought my ticket at the Oakville station the ticket agent mentioned that she was shocked by the amount of tickets she was selling for St Catharines, as she had expected Niagara Falls to be the draw of the service.

    Steve: I am pleasantly surprised by this news because it shows there is a “local” demand on the line, not just travel to an endpoint. To what degree is this possible because the station is actually in the city, not in some parking lot far from “downtown” with no local transit connection? How much is this influenced by the schedule that, in providing for day trips to the Falls, also gives equivalent service to St. Catharines?

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  2. GO Transit = Government of Ontario Transit.

    Technically it should be called GTHA Transit (well now I guess Golden Horseshoe Transit?

    The more GO Transit expands, the more competition it will run with VIA Rail and GHC…As the definition of the GTA expands, it is now GTHA, will it eventually be GTHNFA some point?

    Toronto to Hamilton via GHC: $9.52, GO: $18.50 (This one surprised me). I thought it was one of GHC’s same day return fare so I checked returning on the 3rd. same price.

    To Niagara Falls, GO wins.

    Should GO have a limit? What if it goes to Windsor (GHC buses take average 5 hours or so from Windsor to Toronto). Could you imagine a 5 hour GO trip?

    Why is GO stepping on VIA/Amtrak’s territory? 3 companies running same certain routes can be confusing to tourists.

    We now have a private company, federal company, foreign company and a provincial company running the same route.

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  3. I find it extremely unbelievable that US homeland security had any interest in what people were leaving the US with, as it is not part of their concern. It is more likely that there was some APB out on an individual and they were checking if they were on the train. Our country and the US are big on checking people upon entry and couldn’t care less who leaves, unless there is someone wanted by police or an Amber Alert out.

    Miroslav Glavic wrote, “Could you imagine a 5 hour GO trip?”

    I don’t have to imagine it, I once travelled on a GO consist from Toronto to Sarnia. Back when the new St. Clair Tunnel opened, CN held a family day and I was lucky enough to know someone who could get tickets to go. We travelled there on a GO consist that travelled between Toronto and London via the lakeshore and came back on a VIA consist that did that part of the route via KW.

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  4. Looking at the timetable, I don’t think GO need to store any trains at Niagara, because they all seem to end their runs at Toronto. My biggest complaint about the timetable is [that] the connection from the Lakeshore East trains are terrible, but I know that fitting in with freight and VIA services between Hamilton and Niagara is the main restricting factor.

    As for VIA/Amtrak vs. GO… Amtrak and VIA are effectivly one operator from the customer point of view. VIA must also have spare rolling stock at the weekends, and there was nothing to stop them running more trains at weekends and holidays to tap into this market. They could have done this years ago, but didn’t. Now GO have decided to, and VIA have no-one to blame but themselves if GO attracts more passenegers by offering a superior service.

    Steve wonders how far GO should operate… I think the limiting factor is their curernt rolling stock: the seats and facilities are designed for commuter trips of an hour max. (Think of legroom, lack of headrests and tables, small washrooms, no food/drink provided on board, etc.). While I find the seats comfy enough, I think a trip of much more than two hours wouldn’t be good. (And even for the two hour trip to Niagara, I’d want to sit on the fabric seats rather than the vinyl).
    That said, I think GO do a better job of opearting trains than VIA do. I’d love to see GO take over services in The Corridor.

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  5. Out of curiosity, how far is the NF station from the main tourist attractions? are they easily accessible from the station by transit?

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  6. Stratford/KW – at least one extra service is badly needed to reach Kitchener about 10am (similar to London and Kingston) and return departure about 5-6pm.

    Niagara – the question for me is whether VIA should be relocating its Niagara 0635 and return 1745 train to the Corridor (an early service ex London similar to the early Kingston) in the event that GO operates all the way to NF rather than compete head-on.

    I do have concerns about this though as the Welland Canal closings could wreak havoc on a more frequent service to an extent that impacts public perception of GO Transit on-time performance (which is already not that great).

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  7. As both a transit advocate/rail fan etc., but also a driver, I have to tell you in the past I couldn’t bring myself to spring for VIA to Niagara Falls.

    At $69 pp round trip for the economy class, that’s $138.00 pp for a couple! No meal service, no extras to speak of, and for only 2-3 departures daily.

    By contrast with GO the price is $32.00 pp round trip or $64.00 for a couple for a service that is not comparably less that VIA economy (the refurbed rolling stock has fabric seats). I mean both services have washrooms/highback seating etc. GO now even has those fold-down tables and lap top plugs.

    I think this casts VIA in a very bad light.

    I might pay the premium for VIA 1/Business Class, complimentary meal/wine etc. Or for much better travel time, but not for an essentially identical service.

    Particularly not when the premium is over 100%!

    I hope VIA makes changes to offer more luxury and/or lower prices on this route, otherwise, GO may just chase them straight out of town.

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  8. Calvin, you are mistaken about exit searches from the US. The US Department of State strictly controls the export of many goods under ITAR and other statutes. These regulations are regularly enforced at the border by US CBP. Examples of controlled items are firearms and firearms accessories (including scopes and basically anything that attaches to a firearm, like a sling plate), ammunition, all military goods, as well as military training and other intangible items.

    Having personally experienced the mountain of paperwork necessary to export a rifle scope from the US legally I can tell you that they do very much care what is leaving the country.

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  9. I found Robert’s observations on boarding times especially telling. VIA took three times as long to load 1/20th of the passengers. This may be fine for whistle-stops in the boon-docks, but if VIA wants to attract the crowds from urban areas, that I for one would like to see, they have to improve their boarding process. In the short term, at least load from all doors. In the long term, they need to purchase wide-door, low level cars. (However, I don’t think the VIA cars are well suited for long distance travel, for the reasons Tom enumerated.)

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  10. Notwithstanding the examples of exporting restricted items mentioned by Rishi Maharaj plus some other things covered by ITAR, I was questioning what the procedure is for trains crossing the border, as there are no such hold-ups caused by the country of departure for either cars (one just drives out of the country and is only questioned by the arrival border services) or air travelers (between Canada and the USA, all questioning is done in Canada, by Canadian authorities when arriving, and by US authorities when departing). Why are train crossings treated so differently?

    I have not experienced the actual crossing of the border on the train, but I have used the VIA/Amtrak service to Niagara Falls a number of years ago, and back then the train was late arriving from the US, though there was no indication it was delayed by authorities on the US side (but we had to wait while the Canadian authorities and their dogs went through the train, making it even later).

    Speaking of using VIA for this trip, I don’t know if this still applies, but back then they considered this run part of ‘Corridor’ services that had a 40% discount on fares purchased 5 days in advance. If I recall correctly, that made an adult return fare $30.

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  11. Someone asked about NF Transit. As someone who went to NF and St.Cathys to explore transit, I can say this:

    Don’t take NF Transit. You think Oakville or DRT has bad transit? That’s nothing compared to NF Transit. I asked for a bus map of bus routes at the bus terminal. They told me to go to the bus garage to get one… Thankfully that was just across the street. The Bus Terminal, BTW is right beside the Rail station, in the heart of downtown NF. Great right? Nope. “Downtown” is abandon, most of the shops are empty, and the real transfer point in the whole NF network are two streets quite a distance away. The NF Bus service ran hourly, on all routes. Hope to god you don’t miss your bus. None of this mentions that none of the buses in NF go anywhere useful for touristy things, unless you take the special “falls buses” which cost more, of course. Also, if you are in a wheelchair, forget about it. While the buses are low floor and have working ramps, they do not have any wheelchair positions, only endless rows of double seats!

    The best transit in NF was the serve run by the parks commission, which runs up and down the road beside the falls.

    St.Cathys on the other hand is a completely different story. Their system has a 60% farebox ratio, one of the highest for a city of their size. It’s not due to lack of funding, it’s due to usage. Each route in St.Cathys departs from the central terminal (located under a MTO building) and heads out. When it reaches it’s “end point” it changes route numbers, and comes back in, making each route a circle with the terminal the end. Usage is pretty evenly spread out and routes are well designed and run often (30 or 15 minutes) St.Cathys transit really stuck me as very well run indeed.

    What really hit me as amazing transit was over in Welland. A very small city with an assortment of odd buses. Each route, as above, runs in a circle from the downtown terminal. They all depart each 30 minutes and all meet each other downtown. They go to useful places and are not too crowded, as well the staff is very friendly.

    Knowing what I do now about the Niagara region, I’m not surprised that many people are going to/from St.Cathys. It is really the “downtown” of the entire region. What’s really needed is some kind of Niagara Region Transit, as inter-city transit is actually in demand (Greyhound currently fills this demand). IMHO GO should start running, at least buses, every day to and inside the region.

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  12. Saurabh Says:
    July 2nd, 2009 at 10:35 am

    “Out of curiosity, how far is the NF station from the main tourist attractions? are they easily accessible from the station by transit?”

    It is 4 km away. Niagara transit operated a shuttle service from the station to Clifton Road, the main tourist trap. The cost was $3.50 one way or $6.00 for the day. The parking ticket machines in the VIA parking lot sold day passes for the buses.

    The price that I gave for VIA, $35.90, was for one way. GO has a family pass for 2 adults and up to 4 children under 19 for about $65.00 return and you can go down on Saturday and return on Sunday. The normal adult return fare on VIA is $71.80.

    Miroslav Glavic wrote, “Could you imagine a 5 hour GO trip?”

    I remember when CN used to use GO single level cars mixed with Tempo cars to run to Sarnia and Windsor. They also sometimes ran the local service to Montreal in peak times. The bi levels are head and shoulders above Tempo or old GO single levels which were basically 75 foot long H1 subway cars with crappy seats.

    Calvin Henry-Cotnam Says:
    July 2nd, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    “Notwithstanding the examples of exporting restricted items mentioned by Rishi Maharaj plus some other things covered by ITAR, I was questioning what the procedure is for trains crossing the border, as there are no such hold-ups caused by the country of departure for either cars (one just drives out of the country and is only questioned by the arrival border services) or air travelers (between Canada and the USA, all questioning is done in Canada, by Canadian authorities when arriving, and by US authorities when departing). Why are train crossings treated so differently?”

    Maybe because Homeland Security wants to eliminate the service and it is not as convenient for them as planes and automobiles.

    I only know what the VIA agent told me. Interstingly the timetable allows over 2 hours for customs clearing intothe US but just under 90 minutes for clearing into Canada. The Canadian Border Security Agency took about an hour to clear the train. They took one passenger back to the US in handcuffs. The train had to back up to the Ford Explorer of CBSA to offload the passenger before proceeding.

    Tom West Says:
    July 2nd, 2009 at 9:23 am

    “Looking at the timetable, I don’t think GO need to store any trains at Niagara, because they all seem to end their runs at Toronto. My biggest complaint about the timetable is [that] the connection from the Lakeshore East trains are terrible, but I know that fitting in with freight and VIA services between Hamilton and Niagara is the main restricting factor.”

    I said that I think that the wayside power hookup, which is on track two, is for VIA, not GO. However if GO were to institute rush hour service they would need to store trains overnight in Niagara Falls. There is plenty of room in the abandoned rail yard to do this.

    As James says this does cast VIA in a bad light. True there are not any overhead bins for luggage but with 1600 seats there was plenty of room for people to dump the baggage on an unoccupied, usually rearward facing, seat. GO also allowed 4 bicycles per cars, except for the handicap car. I would like to see you do that on a VIA train.

    VIA and Amtrack are still in the nineteenth century when it comes to loading and unloading passengers. Maybe there is something to be said for letting the Department of Highways design a passenger train operation.

    GO has also installed ticket cancelling machines at both stations and appear to be installing Automatic Ticketing Vendor Machines. This is not something that you would do for a 3 month demonstration project.

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  13. “Perhaps they could consider doing this for Stratford to improve tourism there as well as getting nameless transit commentators to their hotel before they go to the theatre.”

    I can tell you that Stratford wants it. Recently, when GO was making plans to bring train service to Kitchener, a controversy erupted over plans to build the layover yards near the village of Baden to the west of Kitchener. Stratford actually stepped forward and noted that they already had space available, and GO was welcome, so long as they also picked up and dropped off passengers there as well.

    From what I heard, GO said ‘no thanks’, because it was too far away for their liking, but if Stratford is _that_ eager, they could conceivably sweeten the pot. So service to Kitchener could well mean service to Stratford as well.

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  14. I, like Robert, was on the GO Train coming back to Toronto shortly after the VIA/Amtrak train left the station. My comments on the new service:

    – Great start, with newly renovated platforms and efficient operations. The train crew was also magnificent in handling the crowds. However the station desperately requires upgrades (some ventilation please) and the platform requires customer service amenities (benches & shelters) as service continues to ramp up.

    – The one VIA rep on duty who was selling GO tickets was quite overwhelmed (perhaps due to the Amtrak delay). I’d argue that one person at a typical GO station during commuter hours is sufficient but we have to understand this is a different type of customer. GO has much to learn during the transition from a commuter rail service to a regional rail network.

    – Connections with the falls (4km away) needs better integration. Both the Niagara Parks peoplemover and Niagara Region transit are viable options but some modifications are required. Firstly, an integrated fare with a GO ticket would mean a convenient connection without the hassle of extra payment upon arrival. At the very least a fare top-up (i.e. $1) for local service. The tourist area is already overpriced, don’t make local transit the same. Secondly, buses should be timed with departures and arrivals of GO trains. What is required is essentially a re-focus of Niagara Region transit in the area in order to facilitate the relatively easy connections we take for granted in the GTA.

    – More generally, the station requires better connections with its surroundings. It is a hostile place to arrive or depart from and it is not very welcoming. Of course this is an economic development issue, not a transit one, but one can hope for it to go hand in hand.

    All in all though, excellent work by GO. Work was obviously rushed to meet the summer/Canada Day deadlines, but it was magnificently pulled off. I can’t say enough about how smoothly it went.

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  15. Anyone know when that new platform in the North End is supposed to open, so the NF trains will stop in Hamilton?

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  16. In my comment above I suggested an additional extra train ex London, which didn’t seem to exist when consulting the timetables in VIA’s newfangled website to look at existing service. The “Find a train” system suggests a “London-Toronto” timetable which doesn’t exist.

    Suffice it to say that (1) there probably isn’t a need for an 0600ish train from London since there already is one and (2) the booking engine is the only vaguely reliable way to consult VIA timetables at present.

    Steve: Neither the Toronto-Windsor nor the Toronto-Sarnia timetables on the Via site shows any trains around 0600 headed for Toronto.

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  17. First off, a quick thanks to Robert for all his great information. As with Steve you are an invaluable source of insight!

    Second, a thought on someone else’s point.

    Niagara Region (and for that matter Halton Region) are the 2 areas in south-central Ontario that lack Regional Transit where there is an obvious call for it. It’s that much more egregiously absent in Niagara given that it is a key tourist destination.

    I have tried suggesting a merged service in the region in the past, which to my understanding St. Catharines supports … But so far, for reasons I fail to understand, it has not taken hold as a political idea. So many of us here are advocates, I would encourage everyone who feels strongly on this subject to write/email/phone the relevant players.

    If Steve will permit … contact info below:

    This link will take you to page providing the Regional Chair’s contact Address and an email form page:

    http://www.niagararegion.ca/chair/

    This is the Mayor of Niagara Falls contact info:

    Mayor’s Office
    The City of Niagara Falls
    4310 Queen Street, P.O. 1023
    Niagara Falls, Ontario
    Canada
    L2E 6X5

    Phone:905-356-7521 ext. 4201
    E-Mail:tsalci@niagarafalls.ca

    This page gives you the info for the Mayor of St. Catherines:

    http://www.stcatharines.ca/cityservices/mayorcouncil/mayor_councillors.asp

    Contacts for the City of Welland here:

    http://www.welland.ca/Council/index.asp

    Contacts for Thorold here:

    Mayor: Henry D’Angela
    Thorold City Hall
    3540 Schmon Parkway
    P.O. Box 1044
    Thorold, Ontario L2V 4A7
    phone: 905-227-6613, ext. 230
    home: 905-227-8298
    email: mayor@thorold.com

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  18. > I rode the second GO train to Niagara today — 650 passengers. The third train ran with 270. GO is running ten car trains so that they do not need to make and break train sets but they are only using the eight cars closest to the locomotive because St. Catharines appears to only have an eight car platform while Niagara only has a five car platform; they stop the train twice.

    I think that this is only temporary. Niagara Falls actually has room for a ten-car train; however the east end of the platform is old and in poor condition and so they were using only the new west end of the platform. As for St. Catharines, it seems crazy that they wouldn’t extend the platform to 10 cars if this is going to be a permanent service.

    If they are going to make this service permanent GO ought to build a second platform so that VIA/Amtrak trains crossing the border don’t delay GO trains. Furthermore, for this and other long-distance routes (e.g. Kitchener-Waterloo) GO should improve the quality of its cars with more comfortable seating, tray tables, laptop plugs, space for baggage and somewhere to buy food and drinks (on-board vending machines?) I think such an improved BiLevel would be a big improvement over the VIA cars with their slow loading and unloading and low capacity.

    Also, GO should offer bus connections to nearby towns e.g. Niagara-on-the-Lake and Welland. Train stops in Hamilton (on the CN line), Stoney Creek and Grimsby would also be nice.

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  19. I read an article from the St. Catharines Standard, my parents used to live there, written by Doug Herod titled “You can bet this bus won’t be running later than 2011”. It was written in March of ’08. I wrote to him about his resistence of having at the time GO bus service being extended to the Niagara Region. I emailed him about his negative article about GO’s expansion plans because it would have been convenient for me. When I used to visit my parents in St. Catharines I had to catch a Coach Canada bus which is up on Bay St. which isn’t as convenient as the GO bus terminal at Union Station.

    The writer of the article, Doug Herod, was nice enough to email back to me his reasons for not wanting GO expansion, at the time GO Bus, to the Niagara Region. He said that ‘there would not be enough interest to justify the expenditure’. I think your reporting of the train service shows their definitely enough interest in such a service. Columnist Doug Herod wrote also that ‘I have never been a fan of turning Niagara into a bedroom community of Toronto.’

    I imagine that the train ride from Niagara to TO would be over 2 hrs if it makes all the stops along the route. It wouldn’t make a short commute if it were a bedroom community. I think that the GO service would be more for tourism then commuting in this case, which would benefit the Niagara Region greatly. I accept people’s different opinions and I was grateful that the columnist, Mr. Herod took the time to reply to my opposing view to his column.

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  20. Robert Wightman wrote, “GO also allowed 4 bicycles per cars, except for the handicap car. I would like to see you do that on a VIA train.”

    Two years ago, VIA started running a train to Niagara with a “bicycle car” on them that can accomodate 56 bicyles per train. See http://www.biketrain.ca for more information.

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  21. Calvin, the Bike train is not as efficient as the GO train as it only runs once or twice a day max.

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  22. Steve “Neither the Toronto-Windsor nor the Toronto-Sarnia timetables on the Via site shows any trains around 0600 headed for Toronto.”

    If you try booking one though, if offers you seats on Train 86 departing London 05:20 arrive Toronto 08:27 (via Kitchener) and also on Train 82 departing London 06:20 arrive Toronto 08:25 (via Brantford).

    For some reason, since they “upgraded” their sites a couple of weeks ago, they seem to have lost track of the trains that start in London, rather than in Sarnia or Windsor.

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  23. Steve: “Neither the Toronto-Windsor nor the Toronto-Sarnia timetables on the Via site shows any trains around 0600 headed for Toronto.”

    That’s a problem with the new web site, not the real-world VIA schedule. The trains of interest here originate in London, not in Windsor or Sarnia, and the timetables generated by the new web site don’t take this into account, so the trains don’t show up.

    #86 leaves London at 05:20, runs via Guelph, and arrives in Toronto at 08:27. #82 leaves London at 06:20, runs via Brantford, and arrives in Toronto at 08:25. Both trains run Monday to Friday only.

    Steve: Yes, it’s nice to know that the TTC isn’t the only agency capable of screwing up its website. The trains you mention show up if you ask for trips from London to Toronto, but unlike the old days, there isn’t an actual timetable page showing all of the trips in the corridor regardless of where they originate or which route they take.

    You can use the “custom schedule” feature to generate a consolidated timetable, and all of the London-Toronto trips show up that way.

    Some web designers need to get out in the real world now and then. No, I take it back, whoever commissioned the website needs to actually understand how people try to use schedules.

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  24. In fairness, the old site’s timetables weren’t great either. Ideally all trains between Windsor/Sarnia/NF and Toronto would be displayed in a single page so that all train permutations could be seen in one go, ditto all trains in the Montreal/Ottawa-Kingston-Toronto sector.

    For all its faults (and they are legion) Irish Rail manages to publish timetables which show interlined service connections (PDF) – now if only someone would proofread them from time to time to avoid the need for hastily published errata leaflets.

    As for “we should have more service in Niagara region, we should have feeder buses” – okay, but doesn’t that involve those local municipalities and the region funding GO, which presumably they do not do at present?

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  25. If you want to see a truly bad interface, try Greyhound. No way to just look up the schedules, you have to type in you date, source and destination. And if the service doesn’t happen to run on that day of the week, you get nothing back, and have to guess at another day. Not to mention some of the lulu routes it sometimes comes up with. I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like 18 hours from Toronto to Orangeville. (It figured you had to go via Owen Sound and have super long layovers!) You can order for a few $$ their whole North American schedule, which is huge, but not just Ontario. VIA, on the other hand, has a thin little booklet (sadly, very thin) which you can pick up in any station, with all their routes.

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  26. James Bow Says:
    July 2nd, 2009 at 10:54 pm

    “Perhaps they could consider doing this for Stratford to improve tourism there as well as getting nameless transit commentators to their hotel before they go to the theatre.”

    “I can tell you that Stratford wants it. Recently, when GO was making plans to bring train service to Kitchener, a controversy erupted over plans to build the layover yards near the village of Baden to the west of Kitchener. Stratford actually stepped forward and noted that they already had space available, and GO was welcome, so long as they also picked up and dropped off passengers there as well.

    “From what I heard, GO said ‘no thanks’, because it was too far away for their liking, but if Stratford is that eager, they could conceivably sweeten the pot. So service to Kitchener could well mean service to Stratford as well.”

    It is only 16 miles from Kitchener to Stratford so it is probably only another 10 to 12 miles from Baden. It would make sense to run the line this far out so no one would be bitching about those noisy GO trains sitting over night with all of their engines turned off. VIA could abandon their two car train from London at zero dark hundred. There is plenty of room there for storing 4, or even 20, GO trains.

    Steve jumps in: Actually, on the timetable, it says that it’s 42 km from Kitchener to Stratford.

    Similarly the old yard at Niagara Falls next to the bridge has had all of its tracks removed except for the number two passenger track that and that has a derail on it and only manual switches. There appears to be electrical work being done at the east end of the platform by the stations as there is a new concrete pad with plastic conduit coming out of it and signs that trenching has been done in front of the station. I would not be surprised to see a proper platform installed here since GO is spending a lot of money installing lighting, ticket cancellers and TVM’s for a 3 month demonstration.

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  27. Calvin Henry-Cotnam Says: [VIA] had a 40% discount on fares purchased 5 days in advance. If I recall correctly, that made an adult return fare $30. While this would bring their fare in line with GO’s, all of GO’s tickets can be bought on the day, as close to the depature time as you can run to the train.

    Speaking of timetable mix-ups, GO seem strangely reluctant to include the Niagara trains on the combined Lakeshore timetable. This is all the more strange when you realise the first Niagara train is the first train from Union to Port Credit, Oakville and Burlington on a weekend/holiday, and the last train from Niagara provides the last train from those stations to Toronto.

    Anyone know if/when GO (or any other GTA transit company) plan on adding their services to Google Transit?

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  28. In the first world at least, only in Canada do we do everything we can with our public transportation to encourage visitors and residents to use cars. GO to Niagara is the exception, and I will use it this weekend. When I look into travelling, cycling, canoeing or camping out of town, it is either impossible to get anywhere on public transit, or stupidy expensive, not to mention inconvenient. It wasn’t always thus. It was the norm to travel by rail even to small centres like Stratford or Muskoka.

    My wife and I went to Mt. Ste. Anne last winter. I couldn’t find any useful shuttle from the Quebec airport (only recently an affordable flight since West Jet starting flying) meaning we’d have to rent a car there, so renting a car from here was simply cheaper. VIA still makes you change trains and wait several hours in Montreal, not to mention their unreliability. The only reason to take a train to Montreal, rather than take your own car or rent, is if you go alone and for almost a week. Other than that, the train is less convenient and more expensive.

    Forget trying to get to Stratford, Owen or Parry Sound, Algonquin Park without a car. Completely assinine when I want to go canoeing or kayaking (assume I borrow the boat up north). I have to rent a car for three days or more to sit in a parking lot, or pay some taxi service’s outrageous price?

    The lack of transit is a tax on the poor, a boon to the car companies, and limiting on the travel industry. Even though I am a teacher with the time to do so, I am doing no trips in Ontario this summer, because since I am going to Japan to see my wife’s family anyway, I can do all such trips much more cheaply there: they have transit worth the name.

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  29. I went to Brock University about ten years ago for my B. Ed. I had a place with family to stay in Niagara Falls, but had to pay to live in St. Catharines (albeit only $450/mo!) because there was no regional transit. They apparently haven’t fixed this, eh? Mind boggles again at transit in Canada. In the end, even that transit was so poor I had to buy a car to go to all my practice-teaching sites. So naive: I should have stayed at my mother’s in Georgetown, bought the inevitable car, and commuted to Brock’s B. Ed. at McMaster Campus.

    How can anyone live without a car more than 5km from city hall in Toronto? Incredible.

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  30. More on GO to Niagara.

    I think quite a few people are missing an important point when they talk about Stratford being too far from Toronto for a commuter trip. Of course it is! However it’s certainly close enough to Kitchener, or even London. I won’t say that a 10 car GO bi-level train needs to run hourly between Kitchener and London, but GO could certainly make the run with a smaller train of DEMUs, of course this is quite some time off in the future, but the point remains vaild, that Toronto is not the only place with an employment draw. There are enough people that want to go from NF to St.Cathys, from St.Cathys to Hamilton, and from Hamilton to Toronto to make a train work, the underlying assumption that 100% of the people who board in NF will end up in Toronto just does not work. Commuter lines only work if they are about 90 minutes max, very few people are willing to take much beyond 90 minutes to commute every day.

    As for the missing regional transits, I say this is where GO should step in. Welland, St.Cathys, and NF all run buses to Brock University… when it is in session. To use this as a commuter route does not work. Private companies (Greyhound, Coach Canada) currently do these runs, but people should not have to depend on for-profit transportation to get them where they are going. GO buses ran up and down Yonge Street, in the York Region, until York Region Transit was formed and took over the route. Durham Region Transit is going to take over the highway 2 run that used to connect 5 different transit systems together. There is no reason why GO cannot begin a “triangle” service between NF, St.Cathys, and Welland and have any Niagara Region Transit take it over when they finally get their act together.

    It is important to keep in mind that Toronto is not the centre of everything. Windsor is within 90 minutes of Chatham, which is within 90 minutes of London, 90 minutes to Stratford, 90 to Kitchener, so on and so forth. A commuter route from Windsor to Toronto would be utterly ridiculous, but one connecting the dots along the way would make far more sense. Again, such a thing is quite a way off, but you have to start somewhere.

    Steve: This is a variation on the same thinking that plagues the Metrolinx “regional” planning in the GTA. They are so focussed on people travelling immense distances, preferably with as few stops as possible, that they forget there are many demands on a smaller scale. I can just imagine some bright spark proposing, oh, a high speed train in “the corridor” but stopping only at London. Why have speed if you’re going to stop everywhere?

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  31. I’ve said this before, but I don’t think it was here, so here goes; my take on the Kitchener/Stratford route is that VIA should be removed completley. Timetables should still be coordinated at London, but all trains to Windsor and Sarnia would run on the faster route through Brantford, while London-Toronto via Waterloo would be seperately operated by GO. Beyond simplifying the service pattern and avoiding competition it would also open up the door for electrifying the whole corridor without going high speed, and could even help clear the way for real speed upgrades on the southern route.

    Along the same lines, I’d also push VIA, but not Amtrak, off the Niagara run, and run the Maple Leaf and any additional American trains express, probably stopping at, and only at, NF, St. Cat, Hamilton and Oakville.

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  32. Forgot to say that Niagara Region recently put up a inter-municipal transit survey on their website to coincide with a new study on the subject:

    http://www.niagararegion.ca/news/Jun152009.aspx

    The first step is underway but I fear it will lead to the Region operating a few services and leaving the rest to the area municipalities. The York & Durham models show that effective planning needs to have a broader vantage point.

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  33. I took the first train, 6.30am Jun 27 which I thought would be empty but not so, and on arrival 40 minutes late due to the canal, the local transit ticket issuing could not keep up. The scheduled two hours could be improved by increasing the long 30mph? speed limit thru Hamilton and the crawl into NF station.

    It is refreshing to see Go becoming a regional system, not just a commuter service. Perhaps it’s exclusion from Pearson airport should be re-evaluated.

    Finally, the absence of a stop in Hamilton is glaring, and a station needs to be re-created on this line, perhaps exactly where the old one was!

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  34. NCarlson proposes restricting the North Mainline for GO services. I’ve considered this before, but worried about the loss of connections to the larger VIA corridor service for riders from communities along the route.

    Out of curiosity, have there ever been any discussion of code sharing or fare integration between GO and VIA?

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  35. Mark Earley said:

    Finally, the absence of a stop in Hamilton is glaring, and a station needs to be re-created on this line, perhaps exactly where the old one was!

    I agree. For a (for now) temporary weekend service, could Hamilton not have been served by something ad hoc? Or are there Transport Canada restrictions regarding minimal station infrastructure?

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  36. So wait… all trains going into Canada have to be inspected twice? Once with US Guards as they leave and then Canadian ones as they enter? That’s unbelievable!

    When you are driving across the border nobody from the US inspects your car as you are about to leave the country. You just drive over the bridge and a Canadian border guard talks to you at the other side. Vice versa for entering the states. Even at an airport leaving the US, the only thing they are looking for is illegal items at the X-ray. There is no exports check, all of that is done at the country being entered.

    Why are they focusing on rail traffic, of which must be a miniscule portion of border crossings per day. It doesn’t make any sense at all and seems to really wreck the schedules.

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  37. Thanks the small yard at the Niagara Falls station being removed, it would be somewhat costly for GO to add tracks at Niagara Falls. However, if the capital costs are set aside, tracks (and platforms) could be added at Niagara Falls that are dead end. The train would only have access to the mainline from the west end, i.e. a train could enter one of those tracks if it were coming from Toronto, but it could not continue to the Whirlpool bridge.

    The other issues with having a couple trakcs for GO would be access to the station should another train be in the way – an underground tunnel may have to be built for practical purposes, which would also add to the capital costs. However, if GO were truly sincere about adding service to Niagara Falls, this might occur.

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  38. “very few people are willing to take much beyond 90 minutes to commute every day.”

    Apparently someone forgot to tell the people in Barrie about this since their train ride alone is over 90 mins. Add to that travel time to the station, dwell time at the station, typical delays en route and travel time out of Union and you have a communte approching 2 hours, yet it doesn’t stop hundreds of people from using the service. Explanation??

    “The scheduled two hours could be improved by increasing the long 30mph? speed limit thru Hamilton”

    Talk to CN about that one they own the track. It’s for a 3 mile slow order on the Grimsby sub (mile 37 to 34) due to track maintaince, or more accurately – lack thereof.

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  39. “very few people are willing to take much beyond 90 minutes to commute every day.”

    Some people will no doubt commute all the way to Toronto, but my guess is that many users of the service will only be going as far as Hamilton or maybe Burlington/Oakville. Niagara to Hamilton is a reasonable commute, Niagara to Toronto is rather long (2 hours) and would be best served by a ferry to St. Catharines.

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  40. I have experienced a US customs checkpoint when leaving the US. They set up a roadblock, forcing cars into a single line, where a couple of US customs officers and a dog were waiting. The only question they asked if I was carrying more than $10,000 cash across the border (legally, there’s a requirement to report that, even if they’re not there to ask). The dog sniffed my car, and they sent me on my way. They didn’t check documents, and because they were waving a car through every fifteen seconds or so it didn’t make for much of a delay.

    I assumed this was something they did from time to time, either as a random thing or if there was something specific they were worried about on that day. I wonder if it’s also an occasional thing for the train — after all, it’d be a bit silly to always do it for train crossings, as people who wanted to avoid the extra scrutiny would quickly learn to cross by car instead.

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