Residents will have to wait for answers on GO train upgrades

BRUCEDALE – There were more questions than answers when Guelph-Eramosa council got an update on GO train upgrades that could increase train traffic through Rockwood.

Councillors had a presentation on Nov. 18 from spokesperson Leona Hollingsworth of Metrolinx, the Ontario agency that operates the GO train and bus network.

“An environmental assessment was conducted about 10 years ago to extend service on the line to Kitchener, and we are now adding to that EA to consider electrifying that section of the corridor,” she said.

Residents living near the tracks spoke at the meeting, wanting to know how many more trains will be going by, at what times, whether a second track will be constructed and the impact of new infrastructure required for electrification.

Mayor Chris White acknowledged passenger train service is the way of the future, but said local communities need details on train traffic, setback distances from the rail corridor, improvements that can be made at crossing points, what areas will be fenced and how many trees will have to be cut down.

“What is the actual impact on residents?” White asked. “If it looks like the volume of trains is just going to continue to grow, this is going to be a growing problem.”

Hollingsworth said she could not give specific answers because the process is just starting. Some property owners have been asked to provide access to their land for a preliminary assessment of baseline conditions.

Hollingsworth said the government has approved funding for the design phase, but not for construction.

She did say some parts of the line would need a second set of tracks to create short bypass sections for traffic management. An entire doubling of the line, which would create a major expense for rebuilding bridges and crossings, is not planned.

The idea of a second train line to bypass Rockwood, separating freight and passenger traffic, has been discussed in the past, but is not part of current plans. Hollingsworth also said there is no plan to introduce high-speed trains (200km/h plus).

She said electrification would not involve electricity in the rails. Instead, the power would be provided from above the trains through a system of towers.

She said public comments are an important part of the process and she encouraged people to attend one of three public information sessions: Nov. 20, from 5 to 8pm at the Guelph Civic Museum, 52 Norfolk Street; Nov. 25, from 5 to 8pm at Kitchener Central Library, 85 Queen St. N.; and Nov. 27, from 5 to 8pm at the Acton Arena and Community Centre, 415 Queen St. E.

A major challenge is the fact that a section of the line is owned and used by CN Rail for significant freight traffic. New scheduling cooperation between GO and CN has already enabled an expansion of service.

This is expected to continue, and as White pointed out, it will mean more trains going through Rockwood at night, waking people up with their horns.

“Our first priority is always safety,” said Hollingsworth.

She said Metrolinx is working on a range of improvements to provide “better, faster, easier service”, with the goal of introducing two-way, all-day service by 2024 on the line, which runs through Georgetown, Acton, Rockwood and Guelph. Service to Kitchener started in 2011 with two trips per direction per day, and in 2013, the Acton GO station was opened.

In the future, there is to be service in both directions as often as every 15 minutes, effectively quadrupling GO rail service. Metrolinx hopes to run trains that are 30% faster and 50% cheaper per kilometre to operate.