Two of the busiest commuter rail lines in the country are getting major boosts in service.
The Lakeshore East and Lakeshore West lines operated by GO Transit, which run across downtown Toronto and connect it with outlying suburbs, will run more often outside of rush hour, the provincial government announced Thursday.
Trains currently run twice an hour on these lines outside of the busiest times of day. On the Lakeshore East, that frequency will be doubled, starting Monday, to four times an hour. Frequency will rise to three times an hour on the Lakeshore West.
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“This means less time spent waiting, less time spent commuting and travelling,” said Transportation Minister John Yakabuski, making the announcement alongside Metrolinx chief executive officer Phil Verster. “This service increase will get Ontarians moving around the GTA more efficiently.”
It was Mr. Yakabuski’s first media event since taking the job, and he declined to make the government’s position clear on a number of issues.
Asked whether the Tories would maintain the current schedule for electrifying the rail lines and honour the previous government’s commitment to lower GO fares on short trips – a key way to build ridership in Toronto – he said only that they were conducting an audit of government spending. Asked about a light-rail project on Finch Avenue, in the northwest of Toronto, he spoke vaguely about a commitment to improving transit.
The service increases had been planned for months and hints of the coming changes were evident through the late summer. The government agency Metrolinx, which operates GO Transit and a number of local transit providers in the GTA, was running what it calls “ghost trains” through the rail corridor at Union Station to test the higher frequencies.
Along with the boost on the Lakeshore lines, GO will also add a new train from Malton in the northwest of the city to downtown Toronto in the morning and lengthen four rush-hour trains on the Kitchener line, boosting the number of seats.
The increases formally announced Thursday are one piece of a much larger effort by Metrolinx to improve its offerings. The number of trains running has jumped some 20 per cent since Mr. Verster arrived about 12 months ago, part of a multi-year effort to wring as much performance as possible out of the agency’s existing infrastructure.
“What’s great about this is that journey timing becomes easier for our customers,” Mr. Verster said. “You arrive, you can travel. This is one of the biggest objectives we have with railways, is to get the frequency up, and when the frequency is there it becomes attractive as a mode of transit.”
The most noticeable increases in service will be in the off-peak hours. Although these periods are not currently major contributors to GO’s passenger totals, management believe that offering more frequent service will attract riders.
Some of the increases are being will be achieved by splitting trains, so one with 12 cars becomes two six-car trains. Although this increases the number of trains without changing the number of available seats, such splitting allows the fleet to be used more efficiently.
Another change is to operate fewer empty trains. The previous practice had been to “deadhead” out-of-service trains back to the yard – running them without passengers. Under the new approach, these will continue to carry passengers on the way out of service.