Update — June, 2015

VIA Announcement: 6:30 AM Train Boarding in Stratford, en route to Toronto!

On June 16, the Stratford Chamber of Commerce in partnership with CFUW welcomed VIA President Yves Desjardins-Siciliano to Stratford. M. Dejardins-Siciliano outlined his plans for increasing ridership on VIA trains in SW Ontario. As noted previously, long-term initiatives include acquisition of a dedicated rail option from Montreal to Windsor, to enable on-time speed and efficiency, free from current rail freight delays. Short-term initiatives are refurbishment of current passenger cars and pricing packages for students, commuters and 60+.

During the presentation, a slide slipped in.

via-stratford-improvement-graphic

CFUW and its many partners have worked for over three years to enable early morning rail travel from Stratford to Toronto since the 6:15 train was removed, with serious economic repercussions. This time slot is also one of the first recommendations for Network Southwest, an integrated rail/bus proposal for SW Ontario. No one, least of all CFUW was expecting that slide- that train. “This is when you should applaud.” said M. Desjardins-Siciliano to the stunned assembly. Indeed, we did. We are thrilled to have this possibility.

And it is a possibility. Like all plans, there are many steps before completion. The train is planned, but there are negotiations to follow. At this point, the train is expected to remain overnight in Stratford, in the Railyards, pending discussion with CN. Other issues such as overnight security, staffing, and rail slots on the busy line must also be resolved.

There is a part for us to play as well. Where once Stratford residents turned readily to rail, we have moved more towards car travel, a move we are slowly finding less attractive with grid-locked highways. Desjardins-Siciliano has challenged us to “re-create the rail culture in Stratford.” He posed the question “When was the last time you took the train?”

Roundtables

In a Roundtable discussion with the President held after the luncheon, questions of commitment, trust and measurable indicators of success were discussed. Part of the economic fallout from the loss of the commuter train was in real estate and employment location choices. People who needed that train moved away or simply didn’t move to Stratford. Some tried driving at first, but later left. Commuting on major highways was a far cry from a relaxed seat on a train with wifi, a food cart and no parking. Turning that mindset around requires rebuilding trust, and to some degree, assurance that the train will continue. M. Dejardins-Siciliano noted that approximately 120 riders on average per train are needed. Backing up to St. Marys to start was also suggested, as they too need early morning transportation on the North Line.

A second Roundtable will be held in July to explore ways in which Stratford can “recreate the rail culture.” Representatives from major sectors of the community will determine what steps each can take to promote the use of trains, and in particular the 6:30 train. Represented will be the City, CFUW, the University, Perth Labour Market, the Local, the Chamber of Commerce, United Way, the Stratford Festival, SEED (Stratford Economic Enterprise Development), Stratford Tourism, Health, the Tech sector, and One Care.

Strategies that emerge from Roundtable #2 will be discussed with VIA Rail, along with suggestions for VIA as part of that rail culture partnership. This train would certainly benefit the city of Stratford. Additional concerns that we will continue to raise will be bus/train connection to enable other communities in SW Ontario to access train routes, and service to other points along the North Line, including St. Marys. Gettingthere.ca is excited to be a part of this opportunity for Stratford, and looking forward to the growth of public transportation- for business, for health, for students, for social and family connection, for labour markets, for tourism, and for the environment.

cfuw-yds

(Photo: VIA Rail President Yves Desjardins-Siciliano with (L to R) Sheila Clarke, Marianne Van Den Heuvel, both members of CFUW’s Advocacy Issues Committee, and Charlotte Gillett, CFUW Stratford President.)

VIA Rail president announces plans for early-morning train between Stratford and Toronto, Mike Beitz, Stratford Beacon Herald, June 16, 2015.