By Austin Andru and Conner McTague
“This is a project I’ve worked on since I’ve been in office,” says Oshawa mayor John Henry.
“The traffic has always been a problem at the GO station.”
Everyday at the Oshawa station you’ll find a packed parking lot, and hordes of commuters running from to their cars to beat traffic. “Everybody is in a hurry to leave that station and it’s kind of a nightmare,” said Henry.
The additional 160 spaces added to the overflow lot has only put a bandaid on the growing congestion of commuters within the Durham Region.
“If I was to go downtown tomorrow morning and I had an 8 o’clock meeting,” said Henry. “I’d have to be in the parking lot by 6:30 to get a parking space.”
However, in 2024, Oshawa will not only have more parking spaces, it’ll have three GO stations, and two more stations that will pass into Courtice and Bowmanville in the largest infrastructure project in Ontario’s history.
This expansion would see four new GO stations added in Durham. In Oshawa, the stations will be at Thornton Road and at Ritson Road, in place of the former Knob Hill Farms grocery store, which has been vacant for years.
“The foundry that was there (before Knob Hill Farms) had a significant part of the history of Ontario,” said Henry. But Henry is happy that it is going to good use. “When you can repurpose a piece of property to move people effectively, it makes a lot of sense.”
The other stations will be at Courtice Road in Courtice and Martin Road in Bowmanville.
Scott Money, Metrolinx’s Transit Media Relations and Issues specialist, says, “Metrolinx is also expanding Lakeshore East GO train service in Durham Region to help manage congestion and get more people moving throughout the region.”
Stations in these areas have been long awaited, especially in Bowmanville. “The first news that Bowmanville had for a train going to Toronto was at the turn of last century,” said Clarington mayor Adrian Foster. “This is over a hundred years in the making.”
“The Region of Durham is supportive of this project. We see the extension of GO Transit service to Bowmanville as a good news story,” says Tania Laverty, Manager of Communications for the Municipality of Durham. “We are actively participating in this Metrolinx initiative; it is a strategic priority for the region.”
With Metrolinx projecting the population of Durham Region to grow by 90 per cent by 2041, through 2011 Statistics Canada census and the 2017 Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, the expansion becomes almost necessary to provide proper public transit.
Dan Hoffman, real estate agent for REMAX, says, “With my experiences living and selling in the Rouge (Hill). I would say at least half of my clients move into our area because of the GO train access downtown.”
“I have found that if you are within walking distance to the GO or a subway line that adds at least $50,000 in value,” says Hoffman.
The project is expected to be complete in 2024. This timeline allows implementation of consultation, planning and design, procurement and construction of the expansion.
Part of this planning will involve an initiative by Metrolinx to make the trains more eco-friendly.
GO Transit has a goal to electrify the trains on the Lakeshore East line as part of the expansion. “Electrification of the GO network remains a top priority. This will bring substantial benefits in terms of reducing both transit operating costs and environmental impacts,” said Money.
Electrification and track improvements may pave way for rapid transit throughout the province, something Canada lacks compared to Europe, which has high speed trains that connect commuters throughout the continent.
For example, a Thalys train can reach maximum speeds of 320 km/h and transport travellers from Paris, France to Brussels, Belgium in just over an hour. For comparison, it currently takes an hour and three minutes for commuters to go from Oshawa GO to Union Station while travelling at about 50 km/h.
Kathryn McGarry, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation says, “We’re continuing to move forward on various ways to electrify the service.”
McGarry says they are considering other ideas for electrification of the rails, including the use of a hydrogen fuel cell. “It is a very exciting venture,” she said. “There’s a lot of excitement with the technology.”
“We recognize the need to do more for climate change and reduce congestion,” says McGarry.
“And also to promote innovation and to develop new economic opportunities in the GTHA when it comes to green infrastructure.”
The Ontario Government led by former premier, Dalton McGuinty, announced the MoveOntario2020 project on June 5, 2007, which would fund 52 projects to improve transit throughout Ontario, starting in 2008 with the goal of it being in place and fully functional by 2020.
The plan fell under the umbrella of Metrolinx’s project called The Big Move, a regional transportation plan (RTP). The provincial government promised to cover two-thirds of the cost, about 11.5 of the projected $17.5 billion cost, with the federal government covering the remaining six billion.
Metrolinx also forecast what impact The Big Move would have on the GTHA (City of Hamilton, Toronto and the Halton, Peel and Durham Region’s) once it’s in place. With the plan, by 2031, 81 per cent of the GTHA would be within 2 km of transit, compared to 47 per cent without. The average commuting time per person would be 109 minutes per day without the RTP, but with it, it will be just 77 minutes per day.
It will have a positive environmental impact, too. Metrolinx’s 2008 numbers showed the average person contributed 2.4 tonnes of transportation greenhouse gas emissions. With the RTP, this number will drop to 1.7 tonnes, saving approximately 10,000 pounds of greenhouse emissions per person.
Infrastructure includes a new rail bridge over Highway 401, Victoria Street, Champlain Avenue and the proposed Consumers Drive expansion in Whitby, which began as early as 2009. A Canadian Pacific rail corridor expansion, three grade separations, 14 bridge expansions and nine level crossing modifications will also be included as part of the infrastructure overhaul.
These plans also included the expansion of the Lakeshore East Line, which currently runs from Union Station in Downtown Toronto to Oshawa GO Station.
GO Transit is already beginning to feel the growth of the Region, as the entire Lakeshore East line had more than 1.1 million boardings in October 2017, up 2 per cent from October 2016, Money says.
The ultimate goal of the expansion is to provide all-day, 15-minute, two-way travel between Oshawa and Union station. The service will run seven days a week, according to a presentation released by Metrolinx’s Chief Capital Officer, Peter Zuk.
A lot of work had to be done between the City of Oshawa and Clarington, Bowmanville’s mayor says. “There’s a significant amount of work that was done.”
“There was a lot of discussion with the province about what the benefits of doing this were,” said mayor Foster.
McGarry, transport minister says, “We decided to do some more spending on transit to improve the competitiveness of Ontario’s communities, enhance productivity and reduce time spent in traffic and congestion.”
McGarry says it makes sense to expand the rail lines because the population of the GTHA is growing by more than 100 thousand a year.
This expansion might not have seen the light had another party been in office (at the Provincial level), says Foster.
“Whatever leadership is in the PC party, their history has been to not support infrastructure spending in the province and they have continued to vote against the investments,” said McGarry. “Both opposition parties (PC and NDP) to-date have not supported a platform that has infrastructure in it and has routinely voted against the budget in the last four years that contain the investments for infrastructure planning.”
If the expansion goes according to plan, Durham Region and the GTHA will see new, improved transit, connecting people to more jobs, helping the economy grow further. There are many high density developments near the proposed Bowmanville station that will support an increased population from the new station.
It’s a much needed expansion for a population which continues to grow. “By 2024-25, much of the GO rail system, including the Lakeshore East line will be dramatically improved, providing new travel choices to Durham residents,” says Money, Metrolinx’s media relations specialist.
“There will be more stops along the line, bringing more transit options to Oshawa, Whitby, Ajax, Pickering, Scarborough, central Toronto and neighbouring communities,” says Money. “By avoiding highway traffic, customers can be more confident that they’ll get to where they need to be when they need to be.”
“We know we are accommodating a wonderful municipality that is really growing and thriving,” says McGarry.
Because of the work, both finished and ongoing, between Metrolinx, the Ontario Government, MTO and the leadership authority within Durham Region, residents will see a long-awaited GO Transit expansion in the coming years, allowing them to be more connected with their communities, as well as the rest of Ontario.