No-frills rail link outlined for Peterborough to Toronto

(The following story by Tess Kalinowski appeared on the Toronto Star website on March 4.)

TORONTO Peterborough commuters would be able to choose from two trains daily to Union Station and would even see limited weekend service, according to the proposal that won Ottawa's support for a restored rail link between the Kawarthas and Toronto in last week's federal budget.

Peterborough Conservative MP Dean Del Mastro says it would cost $88 million to restore the existing tracks, repair bridges and crossings, as well as $20 million for locomotives and passenger cars, based on the latest numbers from CP Rail.

The rail route would also offer some Durham Region commuters an alternative to the lack of parking and "poor reliability" of GO Transit's Lakeshore East line, says his report. But passengers shouldn't anticipate the luxury of VIA-1 or even Comfort class economy service aboard the proposed train, which could be on track by 2010, according to Del Mastro's report, which was released yesterday.

It wouldn't stand a chance of recovering its costs if it were run the same way as the old VIA line, which generated only 23 per cent of its operating costs and ran at a $2 million annual deficit.

Del Mastro suggests the service would offer only two-person train crews, no ticket agents unless a third-party vendor took on the job, no separate management structure and bare-bones station facilities such as shelters and two-car-long platforms.

He estimates total annual operating costs of about $3.5 million, about $237,000 less than the revenue that would be collected from 903 regular passengers.

Del Mastro says his fare projections are based on GO's distance-based ticket prices and are competitive with bus travel and the cost of driving. He puts the price of a monthly pass to Peterborough at $498 (a distance of more than 120 km), as compared with $347 a month for GO's Barrie service (96 km).

Yesterday, Del Mastro defended the controversial proposal, which has been dubbed "the pork-barrel express" because it would serve a number of Conservative ridings, including that of Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.

"It's not mutually exclusive of transportation projects in the GTA or in Toronto, because we do consider ourselves to be part of the GTA, certainly the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

"Those projects that have been proposed could be brought forward for federal consideration, as can the broader (MoveOntario) 2020 plan," said Del Mastro, who calls his projection of 903 riders conservative, based on population projections for the Durham and Kawartha regions. "The area has exploded."

CP Rail, which uses the proposed commuter line to carry freight for Peterborough-area industry, has agreed to pay some of the cost of restoring the track, and the Ontario government is welcome to contribute, Del Mastro said.

His report recommends only eight stops for the new service: Peterborough, Pontypool, Myrtle, Claremont, Locust Hill, Steeles, Agincourt and Union.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

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