Timeline: Ongoing plans to bring two-way, all-day GO train service to Waterloo Region
A GO Train seen here at the Kitchener station on Nov. 11, 2019. (Dan Lauckner / CTV Kitchener)
KITCHENER -- Ontario's 2021 budget features ongoing funding for public transit over the next 10 years, including billions to expand GO train service to Waterloo Region.
The budget outlined $61.6 billion over 10 years in transit funding. Regional Chair Karen Redman said Wednesday that the Georgetown-Waterloo Region GO line extension makes up a third of the project's cost.
Local officials said Wednesday's budget will mean a big step forward for all-day, two-way GO train service to the area.
However, plans to offer GO train service between the GTA and Waterloo Region has been in the works for more than a decade.
Here's a look back at the history of GO Transit in the region.
2010: GO Transit announced expanded service between Kitchener and Toronto in November 2010. Service was scheduled to start by the end of 2011.
The line would include stops in Guelph and Acton.
Officials said at the time there would be two morning trains from Kitchener to Toronto, and two return trains later in the day, with a planned capacity of 2,500 passengers.
2011: In November 2011, provincial officials said train service would start on Dec. 19, 2011. In order to offer that service, officials needed to complete $18 million in upgrades, including a layover facility near King Street.
Trains were scheduled to leave from Kitchener at 5:52 a.m. and 7:10 a.m. and return from Toronto's Union Station at 4:45 p.m. and 5:45 p.m. The service would stop in Guelph along the way. The trip would take two hours between Kitchener and Toronto, and one hour and 40 minutes between Guelph and Toronto.
2013: Then-Premier Kathleen Wynne said she was on board with the idea of offering two-way, all-day service between Waterloo Region and Toronto. However, she said at the time there were no immediate plans to offer the service and it would need to wait until the province had a way to pay for it.
“We need to make sure that we have the capacity to fund those kinds of increases,” Wynne said in December of 2013.
2014: In March 2014, Wynne said there were plans to bring more GO trains to Waterloo Region by the end of 2016. She told the Greater Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber of Commerce to expect four more trips per weekday between Kitchener and Toronto in the coming years, two during peak morning travel times and two during peak afternoon hours.
The province said in 2014 this would mean "two-way" service between the regions.
2015: The province made the "largest infrastructure announcement in Ontario's history" in April 2015, which included a promise of one-way service between Kitchener and Toronto every 30 minutes during peak travel times, along with an "express service" from Kitchener to Union Station.
At the time of the 2015 announcement, Kitchener Centre Liberal MPP Daiene Vernile said the province still planned to add two more trips to the GO train's morning and afternoon schedule by 2016, along with an additional trip during peak times by 2020. Vernile also said there were plans to electrify the line in the next 10 years.
2016: The province laid out a series of interim steps to bring two-way, all-day GO service to Waterloo Region in June 2016. In an announcement at the time, Wynne said there were plans to build a new rail line east of Georgetown to carry freight traffic, freeing up the existing rail line for GO train service.
Provincial officials announced short-term measures beginning in September 2016, including additional train trips during the morning and afternoon commutes and all-day GO bus service between Kitchener and the GO station in Brampton.
The new schedule came into effect on Sept. 6, 2016. The first day of expanded service came with delays on both morning and afternoon commutes. That had smoothed out by Sept. 15, 2016, when the service reported no delays for Kitchener-departing or Kitchener-bound trains.
2018: Regional officials and the provincial government agreed to fund a feasibility study for bringing GO train service to Cambridge. The study would look at running trains between Cambridge and Guelph using CN tracks already in place. The study was expected to cost about $200,000, split between Waterloo Region and the Ministry of Transportation.
In September 2018, the province announced plans to add a morning trip on the Kitchener line from Milton to Union Station in Toronto. It also planned to expand the length of trains during two morning and evening peak trips to and from the Kitchener station from 10 to 12 cars.
2019: Schedule changes at the start of 2019 resulted in problems for some local commuters. Some complained of overcrowding on trains as more people used the service.
By mid-January, officials added two cars to trains leaving Union Station in the evenings, resulting in 600 more seats per train.
In April 2019, Kitchener Centre MPP Laura Mae Lindo presented a motion at Queen's Park to ask for a clear timeline and funding commitment to provide two-way, all-day GO service between Toronto and Waterloo Region. However, local Conservative MPPs voted against the motion.
The Ministry of Transportation announced expanded GO service in August, including 50 weekly train trips on the Kitchener line. The province said it would offer late-night weekday service to Union Station.
2020: Data released in early 2020 showed GO train ridership at the Kitchener station increased by 40 per cent between April and December 2019. Metrolinx attributed the increase to more mid-day and late-night trains added to the schedule in September 2019.
In July, Metrolinx said it was opening public consultation on upgrading the Kitchener line to electric trains. The project would cover 54 kilometres of rail from Georgetown to Kitchener and require converting some conventional rail to a line with overhead power.
GO train service slowed during the COVID-19 pandemic as many worked remotely. However, service picked up again after Labour Day. There were Plexiglas seat dividers installed between seats to help prevent the spread of the disease.
Last November, Waterloo Region unveiled plans for a multi-million dollar transit hub located at King and Victoria Streets in Kitchener. Regional officials said the site would be a one-stop-shop for GO and VIA rail services, along with ION LRT and city buses.
2021: At the start of 2021, the province temporarily replaced GO trains with bus service due to decreased ridership during the province-wide lockdown. The buses would run on the same schedule as train service.
At the beginning of March, Metrolinx said it was working on safety improvements for all three Kitchener rail crossings. Officials said levelling the crossings was a major step forward, but added two-way, all-day service is still a way off.
The provincial budget presented on March 24 included a $61.6 billion investment in public transit over 10 years in the province. Procurement work has started for the first phase of construction, expected to begin this fall. The next phases will take place into 2023.
In a news release, regional officials said the funding announcement could make two-way, all-day GO service a reality by 2025.