Partnership would use existing rail lines between St. Catharines and Port Colborne
NIAGARA — If Karen Ettinger has her way, folks could soon be hopping trains and getting rides back and forth between St. Catharines and Port Colborne, with stops in Welland and Thorold along the way.
Many years ago, trolley services whisked folks back and forth between Niagara municipalities, but those services went by the wayside when cars showed up in everyone’s driveways.
But Ettinger, president of Port Colborne-based Trillium Railway, is pitching the idea of her private company partnering with the Region to create what she’s dubbed the ‘Niagara Rail Transit Spine,’ with passenger rail cars using her company’s 50-kilometre running from Port Colborne and St. Catharines.
Trillium transports goods for about 20 industrial companies along that route, some of which include Great Lakes Biodiesel and SLM Recycling in Welland, General Chemical Performance Products in Thorold, ADM Milling in Port Colborne and Clearwater Paper International Marine Salvage and Kemira Chemicals in St. Catharines.
Ettinger told the Region’s transportation steering committee on Sept. 16 that municipalities across Ontario are aggressively pursuing light rail transit. But that kind of infrastructure can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take years of
Trillium’s tracks can be updated to allow passenger service for only about $1.2 million, and the work could be done in under six months, she said.
It wouldn’t be a high-speed line like those bullet trains in places like Japan: Ettinger said with existing track conditions with minor upgrades and modest train station construction, passenger trains could run at 25 miles per hour.
But that passenger service could be a boost for Niagara’s economy, she said. The tracks cross through urban cores of Welland, Port Colborne and St. Catharines, and are within a five- to 10-minute walk of employment lands in those cities and in Thorold, meaning it would provide employers with access to a larger labour pool.
Having the passenger rail service would also support the Region’s grow-south push, said Ettinger.
Under her proposal, Trillium would adjust its freight service hours to accommodate a passenger rail service.
While work on the tracks wouldn’t be that expensive, Ettinger said single locomotive/passenger cars known as diesel multiple units cost about $4 million purchased new.
The Region’s transportation committee directed staff to work collaboratively with Trillium to incorporate an assessment of the rail spine as part of the Region’s inter-municipal transit study and its transportation master plan.
At the Region’s public works committee meeting on Tuesday, transportation committee co-chair and Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey praised Ettinger’s partnership idea and said the train spine could be part of a larger transportation network including GO Transit.
“It’s very exciting to have this partner on-board,” he said. “There’s a lot of possibilities here.
“We’re on the right track.”
A phone calls to Ettinger was not returned.