Markham, Vaughan ratepayers' groups fight bid to reroute freight trains
Nov. 8, 2016
By Lisa Queen
Ratepayers’ groups in Markham and Vaughan are hoping to get thousands of residents on board with their campaign to battle a bid to reroute additional freight trains through communities in York and Durham regions and Toronto.
“We believe this is objectionable, we believe it’s not fair,” said Ricardo Mashregi, chair of the Grandview Area Residents’ Association.
Grandview, the World on Yonge Ratepayer Association and the SpringFarm Ratepayers’ Association are hoping 10,000 residents will sign their petition and contact their MPs and MPPs to voice their concerns.
The bid to reroute the freight trains comes from a coalition made up of Toronto, Mississauga, Milton and Cambridge.
In order to create dedicated passenger travel on the GO Transit Milton and Kitchener rail lines, they are advocating diverting the freight trains.
That would mean freight trains traveling from the Milton area would run through northwestern Toronto, through Vaughan and Markham before heading south to Scarborough and east into Durham Region, Mashregi said.
While the communities have been willing to accept “our fair share” of freight trains for many years, they are alarmed this bid would increase rail traffic significantly in a rapidly growing area, he said.
That includes more trains carrying hazardous material, Mashregi added.
“When it comes to freight rail traffic, there is a component that includes hazardous and dangerous materials. If you increase that load factor, you can extrapolate that potentially more dangerous and toxic materials will go through your area when at the same time, you’re promoting intensification of that same area. How does that make sense?” he said, adding residents want the province to focus its rail efforts on bringing the Yonge Street subway north to Richmond Hill.
“Our residents’ safety is as important as everyone else’s. In our area, we have two elementary schools within a half a kilometre of the rail tracks and you want to compound that and add more freight traffic to that existing track? In fact, (the bid) proposes that additional tracks may have to be built on the CN York subdivision line so now you are potentially adding more tracks to accommodate this new freight traffic. In addition, you potentially have to build more interchanges in order for the trains to be able to go past each other at certain junctions.”
While York Region politicians have vehemently opposed the proposal, the ratepayers’ groups are worried the bid has so far flown below the radar of most people and is on its way to becoming a done deal with no public consultation, Mashregi said.
“This report (called the Missing Link) was commissioned by a few municipalities with only their own priorities in mind, without any notice to their neighbours, without any consideration for the potential effects on other communities and without any opportunity to be heard,” he said.
“What’s even more upsetting is the Ontario minister of transportation, Steven Del Duca, the proposed diversion of freight traffic actually runs through his area, which is just unbelievable. I’d like to ask him what public consultation or meetings, including in his own riding, have happened for a project that would double the freight traffic for York while all the benefits would go to Milton and Mississauga.”
The provincial government has promised to significantly improve GO train service but Metrolinx currently shares track with freight companies on the Milton and Kitchener lines, which limits the ability to run additional trains, said Del Duca, MPP for Vaughan.
“In June of 2016, the province, through Metrolinx, secured an agreement in principle with CN that will enable us to deliver more service along the Kitchener corridor. I know that there has been some discussion regarding a proposal that would enable increased service on the Milton corridor as well,” he said in an email.
“Increasing GO Transit service on these corridors requires significant additional infrastructure investments and collaboration with freight rail companies, municipalities and the federal government. MTO (the ministry of transportation) and Metrolinx will continue to work closely with our partners to better understand available opportunities as well as any impacts.”
CN Rail has no comment on the issue at this time, said spokesperson Patrick Waldron.
Residents are growing increasingly worried about the prospect of increased freight train traffic through their communities, Thornhill Conservative MP Peter Kent said.
“It’s referred to as a proposal but I know my city councils in Markham and in Vaughan and residents are certainly upset that what is already a very heavily trafficked, it’s the CNR’s main east-west rail line which is already heavily trafficked, and there is great concern that someone, somewhere seems to be pushing this idea of redirecting what would be a significant amount of new rail traffic, including hazardous materials, through our communities rather than through those communities who want better commuter service,” he said.
To sign the ratepayer groups’ online petition, visit gopetition.com/petitions/public-transparency-4-freight-trains.html