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Regional rail plan to be discussed

Published on

Cathy Dobson 

Jim Houston is hoping local residents will make tracks to the Sarnia Library Theatre on Jan. 31 to have their say about better rail transportation.

“The point is that we can barely get around anymore. Something has to be done,” says the president of Rail Advocacy in Lambton (RAIL).

The public cry for government of all levels to improve passenger rail connections in Southwestern Ontario is growing louder, said Houston.

RAIL is part of a group he helped spearhead called the Southwest Ontario Transportation Alliance, or SWOTA.  He describes it as a grassroots movement that involves hundreds of people seeking more service, lower ticket prices and better marketing.

SWOTA has hired Toronto rail consultant and writer Greg Gormick, president of On Track Strategies, to design a plan to dramatically improve rail service in the region.

Gormick is coming to Sarnia discuss the concept of his proposal and gather public input.

“This is a good time to do this because the federal government is looking at an election year,” Houston said. “We want to fire up business people, people who use public transportation, community leaders and politicians to get on the bandwagon to improve infrastructure and increase our trains and buses.”

Passenger rail service in Sarnia has been in crisis since 2012 when VIA laid off its Sarnia station staff and cut trains to one departure and one arrival a day, said Houston.

“Students in particular are hard hit. There are 11 universities and four colleges between Sarnia and Toronto and students can’t get home.”

Ontario is talking about a 10-year plan to see high-speed rail in the GTA, but SWOTA is more interested in a quicker solution to connect Southwestern Ontario.

“We are in trouble now. We can’t wait 10 years,” said Houston.

He hinted that Gormick’s concept involves upgrading existing track to accommodate trains that travel as fast as 90 miles/hr.  Currently, trains can’t exceed 70 miles/hr in the Toronto to Windsor corridor, he said.

“We’re not talking about new tracks, only existing ones.”

IF YOU GO:

WHAT: Free public forum to discuss improved intercity transportation. Hosted by the Southwest Ontario Transportation Alliance.

WHERE: Sarnia Library Theatre on Christina Street.

WHEN: Saturday, Jan. 31 from 2 p.m. – 4 p.m.

MORE INFO: Visit E-RAIL.ca

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