Rob Houle / St. Catharines Standard
Niagara may have north-south commuter rail service in the not-too-distant future under a plan proposed by Trillium Railway.
Trillium Railway president Karen Ettinger recently unveiled a proposal to Niagara Region politicos asking them to explore a private-public partnership that would create passenger train service between St. Catharines and Port Colborne.
The service would make use of Trillium tracks that run along the west side of the Welland Canal. Trillium currently hauls freight to 20 industries in Port Colborne, Welland, Thorold and St. Catharines. To accommodate the “Niagara Rail Transit Spine,” Trillium would adjust its freight schedule.
“It’s great news,” said Port Colborne Mayor Vance Badawey, chair of Niagara Region’s transportation strategy steering committee. “It’s really going to galvanize the region with respect to getting an integrated transit system for the entire region.”
Regional councillors recently gave staff the go-ahead to move beyond the pilot-project phase of an inter-municipal transit system and to consult further with Niagara’s 12 municipalities to make it happen. It is widely believed an integrated transit system serving all 12 municipalities is key to getting daily GO train service to the region.
Creating the north-south spine would serve as an extension of GO train service, Badawey said.
“It doesn’t just bring GO into the north part of the region, it brings it into all the region, right down the spine, from St. Catharines to Thorold into Welland and into Port Colborne,” Badawey said.
Badawey said an integrated transit system that includes the Trillium Railway proposal “raises the bar” in promoting Niagara as a “world-class destination” with Niagara Falls as a focal point. He said it’s important to have the infrastructure in place to move people seamlessly through the Niagara “brand” that includes the falls, wineries, agri-tourism, history, beaches and festivals.
“Now it’s just a matter of putting the infrastructure in place to move people around so when they do come here, whether they come here through GO or they drive their vehicle here, they can simply park it, and they can go anywhere throughout the entire brand,” Badawey said.
In her presentation to the transportation strategy steering committee, Ettinger noted “key benefits” to a passenger train partnership between Trillium and the Region include:
• A direct northsouth route for Niagara residents to access key employers, creating access to a larger labour pool for employers;
• Supporting Niagara’s grow-south strategy by enhancing transit links to central and south Niagara;
• Creating new development opportunities, (residential, commercial and industrial) clustered around NRTS stops;
• Improving the inter-municipal transit rider experience;
• Enhancing tourism.
The report says while other Ontario communities are aggressively pursuing light-rail transit, which could take years and hundreds of millions of dollar to implement, Niagara Region can make use of an existing line and at a fraction of the cost.
The Trillium report says its rail line would require approximately $1.6 million in upgrades to accommodate passenger service, work that could be completed in six months. The cost of upgrading or building stations or platforms is still to be worked out, as it would depend on the number of stops along the 50-kilometre rail line. The biggest up-front cost, the report notes, would be the purchase of single locomotive passenger cars called Diesel Multiple Units — pegged at $4 million each.
Trillium spokesman John Armstrong said two to four DMUs will be required, depending on ridership.
Other options to the purchase of new DMUs include lease agreements or the purchase of used units.
Region councillors directed staff to work collaboratively with Trillium Railway to incorporate an assessment of the Niagara Rail Transit Spine service as part of its inter-municipal transit study and its transportation master plan.