Funding for expanded GO train service included in provincial budget
KITCHENER -- Ontario's 2021 budget includes funding to help expand two-way, all-day GO train service in Waterloo Region.
The province outlined $61.6 billion over 10 years for public transit, including money to expand GO train service from Georgetown to Kitchener.
The province said procurement work is underway for the first phase of construction, which is expected to start this fall. The next phases are scheduled to take place into 2023.
Regional Chair Karen Redman said the Georgetown-Waterloo Region extension makes up a third of the project's total cost, but that dollar figure hasn't been announced yet.
Redman said the expansion will help the area attract talent and investors.
"We have a lot of assets that investors and people who are looking to work and be part of the high tech, the advanced manufacturing or traditional sectors," she said. "We also have amazing post-secondary institutions. So, we know that we're going to continue to grow at a very fast rate."
Before the pandemic, Nicholas Ruge would often take the GO train from Kitchener to downtown Toronto. However, it's not as convenient now.
"Just by checking the schedule, it looks like they are not as current anymore or the ones returning require a bus route," he said. "I find it difficult to plan a ride around that, so I often just drive."
Kitchener Mayor Berry Vrbanovic said the announcement is a big leap forward for a "transformational" project.
"When we recognize the fact this area has one of the top few economic growth areas in the province, in the county over the past couple years, we want to see that continue and an important piece of that is obviously the transportation links along those corridors," he said.
The province's budget documents said the investment in GO service will nearly double annual ridership by 2025. There are plans to offer two-way, all-day service every 15 minutes in core areas.
There is no specific cost assigned yet for the Kitchener to Georgetown section of the rail line upgrade.
There's been a push for two-way, all-day GO service for more than a decade.
"I think financing is always a factor, but I think the region and Metrolinx have made a commitment to make this work," said Ken Seiling, former chair for the region.
He said the project is a big undertaking.
"The push has been going on for more than 10 years to get this service going in the area," he said. "It's been a very difficult process."
Challenges include a number of improvements and upgrades along with route.
Neither Metrolinx nor the Ministry of Transportation were available for an on-camera interview on Thursday.
"Ontario will soon release the Preliminary Design Business Case for the Kitchener GO extension, which builds on the Initial Business Case, updated in November 2019," Minister of Transportation Kristine Bunker said in a statement to CTV Kitchener. "This year, Ontario will tender multi-million-dollar contracts to upgrade rail infrastructure between Kitchener and Georgetown to support more frequent and reliable passenger rail service. As we recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the project will create significant construction jobs over four years along the route."