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Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce

St. Catharines wants VIA rail service again

Passengers get off the last commuter train that arrived at the St. Catharines train station on Oct. 24, 2012. Julie Jocsak, St. Catharines Standard

City wants to get GO-ing

St. Catharines will ask the province to mark Niagara GO rail on its calendar.

The motion by St. Patrick’s Coun. Mat Siscoe, unanimously passed by council Monday, asks for an unequivocal timeline for the infrastructure renewal start and completion of the rail service along with a start date for daily operation.

“The reality is this has been on the table for quite some time,” Siscoe said, adding there’s been a lot of speculation about how it will fit in with St. Catharines municipal transit system.

The letter will be signed and endorsed by Niagara’s mayors, regional chair, MPPs and MPs in a show of solidarity.

“We need the government to give us a fixed timeline,” said Mayor Walter Sendzik. He said it’s important for their budgets for the next three years and they don’t know if it’s coming or not.

“It’s not about saying we want it tomorrow.”

As Niagara continues to make its case for GO train service, at least one city wants to get VIA Rail back on track, too.

St. Catharines council unanimously passed a motion Monday urging VIA Rail and the federal government to restore VIA train service in Niagara that was removed in 2012.

“The VIA option is again back on the table in a viable way,” said Port Dalhousie Coun. Bruce Williamson, who made motion.

Williamson said the request was made previously by St. Catharines but fell on deaf ears.

Council heard the timing may be better now.

Williamson said VIA officials stated they are looking at the opportunity to increase service to Niagara during an annual public meeting webcast.

The new federal government has also announced plans to make substantial investments to upgrade national passenger rail service.

Williamson said the best chance of immediate passenger service in Niagara is VIA and the municipality shouldn’t let a “no-risk” opportunity slip by.

In 2012, VIA cancelled two daily, weekday return trains and Saturday and Sunday trains which ran from Niagara Falls to Toronto. The last commuter train arrived in St. Catharines in October that year.

The change was part of a larger plan by VIA to reduce its workforce by nine per cent, or 200 full-time positions, and cut routes across the country.

Greg Gormick of Transport Action Ontario, a citizens’ group that believes Ontario needs better rail service, spoke in favour of the motion at council Monday.

“The benefits, I think, would be large. It would work with and serve as a foundation for that GO service you want to see.”

Gormick said GO and VIA are not competitors and urging action on VIA would not have a negative impact on getting GO.

“They are two different types of service,” he said, adding GO would be very locally-oriented and VIA is an express service. “The two can co-exist peacefully.”

Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce CEO Mishka Balsom agreed, telling councillors GO and VIA work together in Hamilton and Toronto.

Balsom said the chamber has supported the Niagara GO initiative from the start but support for long-haul rail service is important, too.

“If the Government of Canada is willing to fund it, we should not stand in their way.”

Councillors adopted an amendment by Mayor Walter Sendzik that VIA be asked to present a business case to restore its service to Niagara. The city will also ask that Niagara Falls and Grimsby councils be asked to consider the motion as well.

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