CAMBRIDGE -- Politicians in the Waterloo Region are considering plans to pursue a Cambridge-to-Toronto GO Train connection that would see riders from Cambridge routed through Guelph.

A staff report sent to both Region of Waterloo council and Cambridge city council proposes utilizing a CN Rail-owned line in what's known as the Fergus Subdivision to connect Cambridge to Guelph, and by extension, to Toronto's Union Station.

"Greater connectivity means bigger and better opportunities and future sustainability," Cambridge Deputy Mayor Mike Mann said in an email. "Building integrated transportation networks is key to attractive, livable communities."

Cambridge to Guelph GO Rail

Findings from a Phase 2 Feasibility Study showed utilizing rail lines in the Fergus Subdivision would be a "viable alternative" to provide GO Rail service between Cambridge and Toronto compared to the originally proposed Milton Line extension.

"The Fergus Subdivision is a practical and beneficial way to provide GO Rail service to Cambridge and provides a strong foundation to shape the future," the report states.

"In addition to a more realistic opportunity for implementation … the route through Guelph provides a better array of midline destinations between Cambridge and Toronto and, in turn, is projected to generate more ridership and revenue," Region of Waterloo senior engineer Darryl Spencer said in an email.

The proposed route would utilize the Pinebush Road light rail before connecting to the Kitchener-Waterloo GO Line.

Although the plan utilizes railways in CN's Fergus Subdivision, currently used for freight, the route would not actually go into Fergus.

Staff have developed a Service and Design Implementation Roadmap highlighting the project's next steps, which include the successful completion of a Metrolinx Initial Business Case and a track and station design concept.

Metrolinx and the Ministry of Transportation were involved in the latest feasibility study, along with officials from Cambridge and the Region of Waterloo. Phase 1 of the study was completed in 2019.

Officials in Cambridge have been pushing for GO Train service to Toronto for years, with previous feasibility studies dating back to 2009.

A 2014 study looked into either extending the Milton Line to Cambridge or connecting the city to the Kitchener GO Line through railways in the Fergus Subdivision.

That study found the Milton Line was the preferred option, however, "significant implementation barriers" relating to track sharing derailed that plan.

The proposed connection along the Fergus subdivision would be 21 km in length, with a one-way travel time of less than 20 minutes.

The projected travel time from Cambridge to Union Station is 96 minutes.

The option to connect Cambridge to Guelph requires "reasonable progress" is made on the Kitchener GO Rail mainline improvements.

The Cambridge-to-Guelph rail service is projected to generate between 60 to 90 per cent higher ridership and revenue compared to the most recent projections developed for the Milton Corridor extension option, according to the report.

The report pegs early annual ridership between 107,000 and 274,000 trips in 2026, with those rising to between 494,000 and 1,150,000 by 2041 under the recommended service scenario.

The economic impact could range from $202 million to $505 million over 35 years, the report states.

"A good passenger rail service would support economic development in Southwest Ontario, promote local transit-oriented development in Cambridge and Guelph, and leverage other transit investments," Spencer said. "For Cambridge residents, this service would provide a fast, reliable, affordable and eco-friendly option for travelling back and forth to downtown Toronto."

Implementing the project could cost more than $177 million, according to the report, with revenues projected to reach $15 million annually in the first 15 years of operation.

It could take six years to implement the project, pending project timelines, Spencer said.

Both Waterloo Regional council and Cambridge council will receive the report and vote on its recommendations – which include proceeding with a track and station design exercise – Tuesday.

"This project has countless economic and environmental benefits," Mann said. "We know the ridership is there and we are excited for the future of Cambridge with both LRT and GO.”