Hopefully somebody briefed Antoine Belaieff of Metrolinx about the pitfalls of appearing before Hamilton City Council to discuss transit. The Metrolinx Director of Regional Planning’s presentation before council last month was part of a travelling road show aimed at sharing with the affected municipalities the transit agency’s long term transit plan for the region up to 2041. As it turned out Belaieff faced a barrage of tough questioning from councillors and although he was unfailingly polite—he repeatedly thanked each councillor each time they asked a question—he was able to provide little in the way of hard information.
In fairness to Belaieff, the intent of his presentation was to inform council about a process for implementing not only the current $30 Billion Big Move but to seek input for the development of transit over the next 25 years; but members of council quickly shifted the discussion to the here and now—which was less familiar territory for the Metrolinx executive.
Mayor Fred Eisenberger was perplexed to hear the news that the first wave of all-day GO service will not go to the $50 Million West Harbour GO station, but instead go to the Hunter Street Station. Eisenberger and other councillors wondered how this could make sense on a long term basis given the agency’s plan to extend service to Stoney Creek and Niagara. The answer provided was vague, but appeared to be that Metrolinx was unable to provide a timeline for more frequent service through West Harbour because an agreement with CN rail over the use of its lines has not been concluded.
Councillor Donna Skelly pressed for a date for full service to West Harbour, saying “am I right that you do not have a date for full service?”Belaieff replied that the answer was “between a yes and a no.” Shot back Skelly, “So we’re building stations (Confederation, 50 Road) with no trains?” The presenter promised to confer with his Metrolinx colleagues to “see if there is any more information he can share” with Hamilton Council. Skelly expressed frustration that there was so little clarity on the level of train service that would be available, and expressed amazement that tens of millions had been earmarked for the new stations on the Niagara line with no assurance that the necessary track capacity can be obtained.
Following the meeting the Bay Observer attempted to contact Greg Percy, GO Transit’s Chief Operating Officer asking for a full picture of infrastructure needs and costs to extend all-day Go service to Hamilton and beyond. Starting at Union station and heading west identifying what it would take to get 15 minute service to Niagara, identifying physical infrastructure needs/impediments and the cost to remedy the situations.
A GO spokesperson replied as follows: Additional service into West Harbour is pending agreement with our partners CN and completion of additional infrastructure between Bayview Junction and West Harbour Station. The negotiations with CN for additional service are ongoing. The spokesperson noted that even after Regional Express Rail is implemented in 2025, that the Hunter Street Station would have 15 minute service but the West Harbour would still only have half –hourly service. The spokesperson also made it clear that even the extension of service to Confederation is dependent on negotiations with CN Rail, yet funds for the station have been allocated.
To the Bay Observer follow-up query, could you at least expand on what additional infrastructure and/or CN agreements is required between Bayview Junction and West Harbour and the expected cost?, the spokesperson would only that there was “no further information available at this time.”
Between the Belaieff presentation to Council and the Bay Observer’s questions to GO, it appears that Metrolinx is currently in intense negotiations with CN over the use of its lines and that, while they don’t have a deal yet; they are gambling that some sort of an agreement can eventually be reached – hence the investment in new stations. But the vagueness of the strategy left several councillors shaking their heads.