Corp Comm Connects

Newmarket, Aurora residents raise concerns about GO improvements
July 16, 2015
By Lisa Queen

York Region residents may be on board with vastly improved GO Train service coming over the next decade but that doesn’t mean they don’t have concerns.

About three dozen residents shared their thoughts with Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca at a town hall-style meeting hosted by Newmarket-Aurora MPP Chris Ballard in Aurora Tuesday night.

The province is investing an additional $16 billion on transit improvements in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area over the next decade, said Del Duca, who is also the MPP for Vaughan.

That includes $13.5 billion to transform GO Train service into GO regional express rail featuring two-way, all-day electrified service with trains every 15 minutes in core areas, Del Duca said.

For example, on the Barrie line, trains from Union Station to Aurora will run every 15 minutes.

From Aurora to Barrie, service will be “significantly enhanced over what we currently have,” with trains running every 30 minutes in peak times and every hour in non-peak times, Del Duca said.

That prompted Newmarket resident Gordon Prentice to question why commuters north of Aurora won’t get the same level of service.

“Why is it the all-day, two way, 15-minute service will terminate in Aurora when Newmarket is a designated place to grow? We’re going to see explosive population growth in Newmarket and farther north in East Gwillimbury,” he said.

“I know there are a lot of people like me who live in Newmarket who feel as if we’ve been shortchanged.”

The province had to take into account many factors when deciding on service levels, Del Duca said.

“One thing I like to stress to people, whether we’re talking about those living in Newmarket or those living in other communities getting a different level of service, it’s not that we’re going to run 15-minute trains, electrified, from Union to Aurora and then do nothing else different north of Aurora,” he said.

“The service concept will provide for every community from Newmarket up to Barrie to have significantly more service throughout the course of the day as well… There will be, compared to today, significantly more service and electrified service in that 10-year period, but also more service over the course of the 10 years.”

There are 70 GO trains per week serving the Barrie corridor today, which will increase to 200 weekly in five years, Del Duca said.

The prospect of all those extra trains have many residents, including Newmarket’s Bryan Allen and Unionville’s Paul Morrison, worried about the significant increase in the number of train horns blaring through their communities.

Train horns already sound in Newmarket beginning at 5:20 a.m., Allen said.

“I don’t know what time you have to get up. I don’t want to get up at 5:20. I’m retired,” he said, stressing that although he supports improved rail service, he’s hoping there is a way to mitigate the horns.

But the sounding of train horns is a federal safety regulation, Del Duca said.

While he is sympathetic to residents’ concerns and is willing to try to find a solution, he said the concern won’t derail plans to boost train service.

“We’re not saying that we’re not going to engage in a conversation to see whether or not there isn’t a creative way to deal with this, whether it’s new technology or whether it’s upgrading some of the crossings ... but I really don’t want anyone to walk away from this room tonight believing that for the sake of a dealing with some whistles that we’re not going to spend $13.5 billion to build more transit for York Region and beyond,” he said.

“Because, on the balance, I think it’s really important that we get the transit needs right and work to deal with mitigating some of the, what I will call, not unforeseen, but the difficulties of  (providing) this additional transit,” he said.

Meanwhile, Peter Miasek, of Unionville, said he supports electrified rail service but is worried about the strain of thousands of additional commuters on already-overcrowded parking lots at GO stations.

More parking spaces will need to be built and the province should also consider re-investing in municipal transit systems to enable them to transport commuters to stations, he said.

While the province has no plans to get back into directly subsidizing municipal transit, it contributes about $320 million a year collected in gas taxes to municipal transit and it is also going to create 15,000 new parking spaces at GO stations, Del Duca said.

Miasek also stressed the need to extend the Yonge Street subway north from Finch Avenue in Toronto to Richmond Hill.

Del Duca encouraged municipal leaders to put pressure on the federal government to contribute towards the $4 billion project.

“What I’ve said to York Region, what I’ve said to the City of Vaughan, what I’ve said to the Town of Richmond Hill is that they need to engage with their federal representatives as well to see if there is an appetite to be able to share in whatever cost, a third roughly of $4 billion, and whether or not, in this case, the City of Toronto and York Region would be willing to make a contribution to that,” he said.

“The support from the federal government over the last number of years for crucial infrastructure has been inconsistent as opposed to a dedicated, stable funding plan like (the province has) for 10 years, $16 billion for the GTHA”

Leona Alleslev, a federal Liberal candidate for the riding of Aurora-Oak Ridges-Richmond Hill, pointed out the perfect opportunity to pressure federal politicians to contribute to the Yonge subway extension is just around the corner.

“I heard a rumour there is a federal election possibly some time this year,” she joked.

The federal election is scheduled for Oct. 19.

Metrolinx has recommended moving ahead with plans to build the Yonge Street subway north to Richmond Hill.

The next step will include preliminary designs, with a report expected to come to the Metrolinx board next spring.