By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express
More questions remain regarding the expansion of the GO Train into Bowmanville and beyond after a town hall meeting hosted by Metrolinx on the expansion of the Lakeshore East Line.
A number of senior Metrolinx management, including CEO Phil Verster, were present during the event held at the Abilities Centre in Whitby.
Metrolinx brass addressed several issues, including the company’s tendering process, connector bus routes, construction at Union Station, and uncomfortable seats on newer trains.
But the burning issue on the minds of many was the planned expansion of train service into Bowmanville, and a few local politicians said the message they heard is different from past statements.
Verster said Metrolinx is currently considering four options for the expansion, and no final decisions have been made.
As previously reported by The Oshawa Express, the Wynne government laid out a timeline of construction beginning in 2019, and completion expected by 2023/2024.
“We are absolutely committed to make sure this is going to happen. Frankly, Premier Kathleen Wynne has been very clear on this – we are going to get trains up to Bowmanville,” former Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca said during an Oshawa event in October 2017.
However, Verster said Metrolinx isn’t working to that same timeline.
“Any timeline for any option can only be determined when the option has been selected. There has been no formal option selected yet, we are now considering the four options,” he told The Oshawa Express. “I cannot really talk about what timelines people have committed to before, I can only say that we have a very structured process by which we do business cases, take options to government, government makes decisions and we implement them as soon as we can.”
Regional chair John Henry was outspoken in his disappointment.
“There is an expectation from the mayors, [Oshawa] Mayor [Dan] Carter, [Clarington] Mayor [Adrian] Foster, [Whitby] Mayor [Don] Mitchell, and myself as the former Mayor of Oshawa and now regional chair, that we will see the train in Clarington by 2024,” Henry states.
Henry said that timeline is one the community perceived over the past few years.
“There is also a public perception when the Premier of the province makes a commitment, whether it’s this Premier or the previous Premier, that things are going to happen,” Henry said. “The real question that I pose is – is that commitment going to be honoured…that the train will be there in 2024 because residents of our communities have made investments in their lives knowing the train is coming.”
The regional chair said there is an “absolute willingness” to work with Metrolinx, but local patience is wearing thin.
“We’ve been to these meetings a number of times. This is at least the 10th event I’ve been to where they’ve talked about the train going into Clarington and additional stations in Oshawa. We’ve talked long enough, and now it’s time to see the eastern residents of the GTA get their equal service – and that’s not just Oshawa and Clarington, it’s Port Hope, Cobourg, the City of Kawartha Lakes and Peterborough, where their residents come over to get the trains.”
Carter said it is important to keep the lines of communication open with Metrolinx, but admitted he is worried “the option they are looking at is not the preferable option that we are looking” which is a track running close to the downtown core.
The original concept, released in 2016, saw new stations in Oshawa at Thornton Road and Consumers Drive, and at the former Ontario Malleable Iron/Knob Hills Farm building on Howard Street.
Additional stations in Courtice and Bowmanville were planned as well.
However, Verster said no station locations or routes are finalized at this point, unwelcome news to Foster.
“Things are not clear for us. We thought we knew exactly what the path forward was a year ago – we knew where the stops were going to be, we knew what timelines were, promises had been made,” he said. “Then it looks like those promises had been completely unmade, and now we’re hearing there is movement on the file, we just don’t know where or when. So no, clarity was not part of tonight.”
Foster said he’s pleased with the engagement during the meeting and promises of follow up meetings with Metrolinx but he’s ultimately disappointed.
“Still feels like a step backward, when a year ago if you would have asked me, there would be shovels in the ground [in 2019], because that was the promise,” Foster said.
Oshawa MPP Jennifer French will also be meeting with Verster and other Metrolinx officials soon.
However, the lack of a devoted timeline was troubling to her.
“It’s disappointing when it comes to the Bowmanville GO extension that we are looking far down the road, and I still have no idea what it will look like,” French said. “I don’t know if those options will be what’s best for Oshawa, so I’m looking forward to having more details.”