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Dec 13

VIA Rail selects New Fleet for Quebec-Windsor Corridor

By TAO-admin | Intercity Rail and Bus , Ontario

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VIA Rail Canada announced on December 12 that Siemens Canada has been selected as the successful bidder in its fleet renewal program for the Quebec-Windsor Corridor. This is a day that Transport Action Ontario and our affiliate organizations have long campaigned for, and we welcome this federal investment in VIA Rail and environmentally responsible transportation.

The value of the contract is $989M to build 32 new bi-directional trainsets (160 passenger cars and 40 locomotives) plus a 15 year Technical Services and Spare Supply Agreement valued at $23.7M/yr. The first trains are expected to be delivered for testing in 2022, and to be phased in across the Quebec-Windsor corridor over the following two years.

The fleet will be assembled at Siemens plant in Sacramento, California, although Siemens has pledged to source 20% of the parts and services from Canadian suppliers, establishing procurement offices in Ontario and Quebec.
The fleet is based on the Siemens Viaggio design, which has been operating on Austria’s express intercity “Railjet” service across Europe since 2006. This design has also proven itself in North America on Brightline’s express rail services between Miami and West Palm Beach, which will soon be extended to Orlando and Tampa under the Virgin Trains USA brand. Similar equipment is also on order for Amtrak’s Midwestern services and to replace older equipment on California’s inter-city rail services.

The passenger cars will have fast wireless internet, bicycle spaces, quiet zones, and will surpass current universal accessibility standards. They will feature wide aisles, larger washrooms, level boarding at stations with high platforms like Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City, and automatic lifts for accessibility at other stations, helping to fulfill VIA Rail’s commitment to Canadian disability and veterans’ groups.

The trains will run at up to 160 km/h on existing routes, including tracks which VIA Rail services share with CN’s freight operations, and are capable of operating at more than 200 km/h if the federal government also approves VIA Rail’s High Frequency Rail proposal to provide dedicated passenger tracks in parts of the corridor.
The new equipment could also be used to improve service frequencies and reduce travel times in Southwestern Ontario if Ontario’s new government transforms the previous government’s exploration of High Speed Rail into a targeted investment in maximizing the utility of existing rail corridors.

VIA Rail states that it undertook a fair, open, rigorous and transparent procurement process following the best international practices in this field. However, the decision to award the contract to an international bidder has come under fire from Unifor and Quebec politicians who would prefer to have seen a Canadian supplier win. In defence, VIA claims that the Siemens bid was far superior to all other bids in schedule, quality and price. Meanwhile, Bombardier Canada has benefited from numerous orders for its highly successful bi-level commuter equipment, both from Canadian and US transit agencies, including an order for up to 999 cars for New Jersey Transit worth as much as $3.6 billion, clearly demonstrating that Canadian workers also enjoy the advantages of bilateral trade in the rail industry.

VIA Rail is also investing $154M in refurbishing its fleet of Budd-built stainless steel passenger cars for transcontinental and regional services, providing updated seating, wheelchair lifts and fully accessible bathrooms. These contracts, and a contract for refurbishing four dinning cars, have all been awarded to Canadian companies, supporting some 300 jobs in Quebec.

With the “Renaissance” fleet of British-built cars on the Ocean service to Halifax also in need of replacement, Transport Action hopes to see federal funding to refurbish more of VIA Rail’s stainless steel sleeping cars in the near future, a contract that is also likely to go to a Canadian facility.

Oct 30

Power of Rail Symposium at Western University

By TAO-admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , Latest Regional News , Ontario

The Southwestern Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA) and Transport Action Ontario (TAO) hosted a symposium on Oct. 12, 2016, promoting better passenger rail service for Western students and faculty. Our special guest was NDP MP Irene Mathyssen.

TAO Director Scott St. John introduced SWOTA President Terence Johnson, who discussed the need for an urgent High Performance Rail solution to address the growing infrastructure and mobility gap in Southwestern Ontario. Debunking the myth that Ontario lacks the population density to support a reasonable level of core services, Johnson drew a parallel between London, Ontario and Crianlarich, a village of 185 people in the Highlands of Scotland, which has more frequent and less expensive services to Glasgow than London does to Toronto.

 

Drawing upon examples from across the United States to illustrate the comparatively low cost and rapid implementation schedule of High Performance Rail, and the benefits of service integration between train and bus, Johnson set the stage for TAO Acting President Tony Turritin to give a more detailed description of the Network Southwest vision for restoring mobility to the region.

 

Irene Mathyssen, MP for London-Fanshawe, expressed her support for “Network Southwest” and making London a regional hub for Southwestern Ontario. She is working to draft a new version of the “VIA Rail Canada Act,” originally introduced by MP Phil Toone, that would empower VIA’s mandate in relationships with government and the freight railroads.

 

As Tony Turrittin explained, examples of High Performance Rail are close at hand.  In the United States, Amtrak operates fast and very frequent trains between New-York and Albany (227km), Chicago-Milwaukee (137km), Los Angeles-San Diego (205km), and Oakland-Sacramento (144km).  As VIA Rail has withdrawn service in Southwestern Ontario over the last two decades, cities such as Stratford, Kitchener, Guelph and Niagara Falls have put out a cry for help to the Province asking that GO trains be extended to their cities.

 

GO service is highly popular because it is mass transit: frequent, high capacity so reserved seating is not necessary, pairs of wide doors for quick boarding, reliable sechedules, and low fares — all the things that VIA Rail isn’t, Turrittin pointed out.  VIA’s schedules don’t comprise a workable network, on-time performance is very poor, seating is limited, and fares extremely high.  But VIA is an express service which GO is not in its present commuter rail form.  He proposed melding the best of what VIA is supposed to do with GO’s mass transit model.

 

Turrittin closed his presentation by calling on the Province to step into the intercity rail vacuum left by VIA Rail with the GO-train mass transit model.  This is an opportunity.  A new delivery agency is needed with the participation of the region’s municipalities.  The federal government can help by passing on its regional VIA subsidy to the new operating agency.  Some track upgrades are required.  There will be major economic and social benefits flowing from quality intercity express rail in Southwestern Ontario integrated with regional and local transit. 

Turritin’s presentation can be viewed here:  nsw-presentation-london-10122016-turrittin

 

Communications expert and TAO member Chris Ryan spoke at the end, encouraging everyone to get involved and write to their politicians.

 

The full “Network Southwest” report is available at www.swota.ca/networksouthwest/

Jul 15

Input Provided on Multimodal Transportation Strategy for Northern Ontario

By TAO-admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , Ontario

 

The Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) & the Ontario Ministry of Northern Development & Mines (MNDM) are currently developing a Multimodal Transportation Strategy for Northern Ontario (NOMTS). This initiative will define the improvements for the movement of people & goods over the next twenty five years, throughout the Cambrian Shield.
Our affiliate organization, the Northern and Eastern Ontario Rail Network (NEORN), together with Transport Action Ontario, have  responded on behalf  of  numerous citizen groups in the province.  The submission focusses on the importance and the need for frequent and  reliable passenger trains & corresponding bus shuttle services in the region.  A  Multimodal Transportation Strategy for Northern Ontario must include passenger trains!
Northern Ontario is becoming more and more isolated. This severely inhibits new inward investment and access to the burgeoning, global tourism opportunity. Between 2011 & 2014, there have been over 674 highway closures in the Northeast region of the province. Communities have witnessed nine motor coach route reductions or service eliminations within the previous year.   Connecting Northern Ontario with the rest of the province & the country is critical.
The NEORN/TAO submission can be viewed here:  NEORN-NOMTS-Submission-FINAL
Jul 07

Ontario-Wide Consultations on Modernizing Ontario Intercity Bus Regime

By TAO-admin | Interurban Rail and Bus , Ontario

 

Intercity bus service is a key component of a connected intercity public transportation network in Ontario.  For example, our Network Southwest Integrated Passenger Rail and Bus Action Plan proposes a strong network of buses connected to a rail “spine”.  However, the reality in Ontario is very different – with declining service and reduced frequencies.   In 2015, the province initiated consultations on modernizing the intercity bus regime.  Both Transport Action Ontario and the Southwest Ontario Transportation Alliance (SWOTA) provided commentary.  (See TAO website for our joint letter of September 24, 2015).
The Ontario Ministry of Transportation has now issued a discussion paper and a schedule for consultation during July/August.  Please read the paper and feed back any thoughts to the address provided in the paper.  We also encourage members to attend some of these meetings and provide feedback in person.
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