Hamilton Short-Changed in GO Improvements

The residents of Hamilton, our civic leaders, GO Transit, CP Rail and the government of Ontario need to co-operate and move our transportation network into the 21st century.

By Jonathan Dalton
Published September 09, 2007

An improved schedule for GO Transit's Lakeshore West line took effect Sept. 4. Trains are delayed for 4-5 weeks starting from Aug. 13 to 31 while the final phase of construction is completed on the new third main line from just west of Burlington Station to the Bayview Junction, between Aldershot and Hamilton.

This new track was added to relieve congestion along the busy frieght corridor and allow for more trains to pass through without delay.

At the outset of the project, GO stated that the third track would allow them to "increase rush hour service to Hamilton GO Centre" thanks to the extra capacity.

The only significant change in the new schedule is that daytime and evening hourly trains now go one stop further to Aldershot.

Rush hour trips are the same - three morning trains from Hamilton and four afternoon trains to Hamilton. All other rush hour trains terminate at Burlington as before.

There is no improvement in the travel time between Hamilton and Aldershot - 15 minutes, no faster than the bus covering the same distance in heavy traffic, making all stops. If there were no delays, and the train moved at a constant 50km/h, this trip would take 10 minutes.

I will summarize the options for Hamilton travellers by the trip category and mode of travel, with improvemtents noted:

Hamilton to Union Travel Options
Time Through Train Train + Bus Express Bus
Peak period trips to Union Station 1 h 5 min 1 h 30 min 1 h 30 min
Peak period trips to intermediate stops (Oakville used as an example) 40 min 1 h
Off peak trips to Union Station 1 h 30 min (now 1 h 10 min) 1h
Off peak trips to intermediate stops 55 min (now 45 min)

During the rush hour outbound from 6:30 to 9:00 and inbound from 4:30 to 7:00, the schedule is essentially unchanged.

In between the three trains leaving Hunter and James in the morning, the commute involves a bus to Burlington Station, stopping along King St, taking the 403 to Aldershot Station, then continuing along Plains Rd. and Fairview St. to Burlington Station, and a train from there to all further destinations.

The bus from Hamilton to Burlington must provide a buffer in case of unusually bad traffic, and to allow passengers to transfer, and thus there is a 9-10 minute layover time at Burlington between the bus's scheduled arrival and the trains departure.

It takes 40 minutes between leaving Hamilton by bus, and leaving Burlington by train. Through trains, in contrast, take 21 minutes.

The westbound trip into Hamilton is similar - four through trains to Hamilton, the remainder stopping at Burlington with connecting buses.

Clearly, GO's improvements are geared towards Burlington residents and park-and-ride commuters out of Aldershot. Once again, GO extends its reach to the low density suburbs while urban Hamilton gets the short end of the stick.

According to this 2001 survey [PDF], only 0.8 percent of Hamilton workers commuting between 20 and 25 km use public transit. To attract commuters from Hamilton to downtown Toronto and the intermediate business areas, we must provide service that is competitive to automobile travel in terms of service frequency and trip time.

The QEW Express is an excellent service with up to three trips every hour and buses frequently at capacity, but it is unpredictable because the QEW, Gardiner and Lakshore can be congested at any time of day, any day of the week.

There are simply too many vehicles on the road, and as sprawl development continues uninhibited, this traffic gets worse every year. Without any dedicated bus lanes along the route, the QEW bus is at the mercy of all the hordes of single occupancy vehicle drivers, affording no benefit to those who would choose the better way.

When this construction project started, GO promised improved travel times and eventually more trains out of Hamilton.

As of the project's completion, however, Hamilton's progress is best described by a quote from GO pertaining to a different project: "Go trains will be on time even more often."

While the rail infrastructure into Hamilton has been improved, and indeed the potential exists for better service, the principle roadblock to better service is the priority given to Canadian Pacific's frieght trains along the tracks which they lease to GO Transit.

In 1900, 26 trains per day served Hunter St, while also allowing room for frieght activity. CP Rail has stated that as of today, they can allow at most four trains in, and four trains out, of the Hunter St. station.

As we all know, Hamilton is a city that will make every sacrifice to help people get around in cars, at great cost to our budget and to the overall quality of life in our city.

If some of this effort was expended on improving transit, specifically rail transit, we would improve our ability to travel while also providing economic and cultural benefits.

The residents of Hamilton, our civic leaders, GO Transit, CP Rail and the government of Ontario need to co-operate and move our transportation network into the 21st century.

Jonathan Dalton runs a small music shop on a two way street in downtown Hamilton. He is a board member of the Durand Neighbourhood Association, and volunteers with Transportation for Livable Communities.


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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2007 at 11:50:01

This extension my have limited immediate benefits to Hamilton Downtowners, but I think we will be seeing more and more improvements in our neck of the woods. Extending the rush hour service to Aldershot is still a good thing -- you have to start somewhere.

I don't think this is a case of GO pandering to Burlington commuters and forgetting about Hamilton. There are two major bottlenecks between Aldershot and Hamilton. First of all, Bayview Junction is one of the busiest rail junctions in North America. Up to 80 trains pass through daily. That makes service additions a little more complicated than simply "adding more trains". Secondly, the single line through the tunnel under Hunter is a serious bottleneck because GO trains must share that with freight, and it's a busy freight line which runs to Fort Erie.

There are murmurs of adding a "parking line" at the Hunter station so that a GO train can stay overnight. This could result in an additional train being added to the morning and evening rush. What I really hope to see is an extension to the weekend trains which currently only run to Oakville. Useless!

Anyway, I know none of this is new to you Jon... any readers looking for more info and updates might want to watch these threads:

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By mark (registered) | Posted September 11, 2007 at 12:18:22

I don't think the single-track tunnel is more of a perceptual thing rather than an actual service restrictor. It is a relatively short tunnel with sufficient signals and track on either end to handle queuing up for closely timed trains. There just isn't the desire to manage the traffic effectively. After all, this really isn't that busy a freight line. From what I understand, that stretch currently averages six to nine freight runs a day. And, as Jon pointed out in his article, this station handled 26 passenger trains a day back when it was used to its proper potential.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 11, 2007 at 13:59:41

I would love to see full go train service to the Hunter station.

So what can we do to go out and get it? I have talked extensively with my councillor about improving GO service, and he is actively pushing for it... but there's only so much one guy can do!

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted September 12, 2007 at 12:52:42

I mentioned this on Sean's site already, but the tunnel used to be double tracked until Centralized Traffic Control eliminated the need for it, and it was then decided to run one track through the middle to allow for bigger cars. There is enough track in Hamilton to serve our frieght and passenger needs, but they are owned by 2 different railways, both of which are frieght only. If they were to co-operate and share lines, which historically competing railways have always done, some track time could be freed up for passenger trains. This is the big hurdle for GO.

The new track should at least improve the reliability of the trains and cut down on delays. When the construction is finished and morning trains are back to their regular schedule, I'll report back on this.

If we want that overnight storage, someone needs to contend with Bernie Morelli in ward 2, and win. He is dead set against it.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 12, 2007 at 14:23:10

Morelli is Ward 3. The overnight "parking" will be in Ward 2 (Bob Bratina)

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted September 13, 2007 at 11:20:12

Sorry, I got those wards mixed up.

Morelli promised in his last election campaign to oppose the facility. I lived in ward 3 at the time, and assumed he was taking the angle of noise pollution from the trains. If it's not even in his ward, it's all the more ridiculous. Ward 3 is lower income, and less car ownership than average, and close to the station, so it really stands to benefit from the service. I moved to the area to give up driving and use the GO, and it was very convenient. (now I live behind the station, even more convenient)

also, I should apologize for the accusatory tone of parts of my article. I'm frustrated with the lack of progress, but I do know that GO has been pushing hard to extend to Hamilton.

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By A Hamilton Woman (anonymous) | Posted September 19, 2007 at 17:53:39

I know this wasn't the focus of this article, but I just have to say - in addition to extended GO service, this city needs Via Rail service. It's appalling that I have to travel to Aldershot in order to take a train.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 20, 2007 at 10:16:19

We are the only city of this size in Canada without our own VIA station. It's absurd. See more details here:

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2007 at 10:52:02

Historically, yes but there have been recent murmurings about GO considering a second train platform on the north line near james -- and if that happened it would be a serious motivator for VIA to move to the same spot. One can dream!

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 21, 2007 at 11:29:04

strange...GO would have 2 stations 10 minutes apart on James St? I'd love the new track, but would worry about them abandoning the current station.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted September 21, 2007 at 14:54:53

not a full station, just a platform.. and a shuttle between (or maybe convince the city to cough that part up). i dont think they'd care to (or be able to) move all the buses there... and they probably wont invest in anything nearly as fancy as the hunter st'n. anyway it's just speculation now so who knows what will really happen...

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted September 23, 2007 at 02:15:26

I think Via's ideal model for a station is an area where it's legal to walk up to the train tracks, and people buying their tickets online. That seems to be the direction they're headed. Just set up a trailer in that parking lot opposite the old CN station and some steel stairs down to the tracks.

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