The Ontario government is vowing to go ahead with electrifying the entire GO rail network and boosting service sharply so a train arrives every 15 minutes, while saying little about how much it might cost or where the money will come from.
The plan involves shorter trains moving more frequently and is projected to double ridership in GO in a decade, according to the government. Improvements to the suburban rail network have long been central to planning by Metrolinx, the regional transit agency, but this takes an aspirational goal and makes it government policy.
“For commuters of the 905, reducing their commute time and actually having viable alternatives to an hour or two hours in the car has been the holy grail, I think,” Transportation Minister Glen Murray said Thursday morning, laying out details of the idea with Premier Kathleen Wynne.
“This is the single most important and transformative transportation decision in the history of Ontario, since we first introduced subways over half a century ago.”
Large questions remain, though. The price tag – which is likely to be high – has not been determined. And how the Liberals will raise enough new money to fund their various transit plans has not been made public. The source of the money will be revealed next month in a budget that must be supported by an opposition party to keep this government and its plan alive.
If the government survives, the proposal to switch from diesel to electric propulsion and expand service will become part of the province’s 10-year capital plan.
“This initiative is so important for connecting communities within Toronto, Greater Toronto and the Hamilton area,” Ms. Wynne said.
The first line to be electrified, if the money comes through, would be the rail link now being built to Pearson International Airport. Construction to convert that could begin as early as next year, according to Metrolinx chief executive officer Bruce McCuaig.
The announcement came the same day as two Toronto mayoral candidates rolled out more of their ideas for fighting congestion, which is shaping up as the key issue of the fall municipal election.
John Tory announced Thursday morning plans to boost waterborne commuting, co-ordinate road construction better and speed surface transit with queue-jumping lanes and better signal prioritization.
At an event a few hours later, Olivia Chow promised to bring a traffic liaison into the mayor’s office, adopt newer and more responsive traffic signal technology and crack down on contractors who block traffic and workers who do shoddy road-repair work.
The high price tag and long timeline required to do something about the overburdened Toronto subway system have prompted candidates to look for congestion fixes that can be implemented in the meantime. And Mr. Murray, at the provincial announcement, painted a picture of more frequent GO service helping take pressure off the subway. He noted that GO would offer passengers a quicker trip downtown from several of the points where the two systems connect.