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The saga of the GO rail in Durham

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

Where there is a constant disappointment, it’s understanding that, as human beings, we become guarded in our hopes and optimism.

This guarded optimism has been clear on the faces of local politicians ranging from Regional Chair John Henry to Oshawa Mayor Dan Carter to councillors from every municipality across the region regarding one topic in particular: the eastward expansion of GO Transit.

However, their guarded optimism quickly changed to jubilation as Durham MPP Lindsey Park recently announced Metrolinx has selected its preferred option for the possible expansion of GO Transit
rail service eastward in Oshawa and into Clarington.

The option will be before Metrolinx’s board of directors on Thursday, Feb. 20.

This news represents the latest twist over the past decade since the project was first conceptualized.

In 2016, the then-Liberal provincial government announced the Lakeshore East line would extend further east with two new stations in Oshawa, plus new stops in Courtice and Bowmanville.

A Park and Ride location was unveiled at the former Knob Hill Farms building on Howard Street, which is a proposed site for a GO station in Metrolinx’s planned route for rail expansion.

“It’s a great story for Durham,” then-Mayor John Henry told The Oshawa Express.

Over the next few years, anticipation for the project began to swell as bits and pieces of details began coming forward.

During delegations to regional council in 2017 and 2018, the timeline set out by Metrolinx officials pointed to construction beginning in 2019 and rail service up and running by 2023/2024.

However, it was clear local politicians still had some reservations, as they had heard this all before.

Plans to extend GO Train service into Clarington has been officially in the works for more than a decade, originally announced as part of the previous Liberal government’s “Big Move” Initiative in 2008, a 25-year, $500 billion plan.

Plans within the “Big Move” project proved not to live up to the name, as the expansion was set to be done years ago.

There have been numerous town hall and public meetings, groundbreaking events, and media photo ops, but not a single track has been laid for the project as of today.

But that’s not to say there hasn’t been a great deal of work done on the project.

Feasibility studies finished in 2009, and environmental assessments received approval from the province in 2011.

Here in Oshawa, Metrolinx has been busy eating up lands intended to house potential GO Stations.

In 2011, Metrolinx began to make overtures about acquiring the former Ontario Malleable Iron Company building, also known as the former home of Knob Hill Farms, for future development on the Lakeshore East Line.

Although a deal couldn’t be reached, Metrolinx eventually expropriated the land in 2014.

A Park and Ride location opened in April 2018 to allow commuters an alternative place to park in order to get to the extremely crowded Bloor Street GO Station.

Originally called the Central Oshawa GO Station, it is part of the option identified as the favourite of Metrolinx.

The Ontario Malleable Iron Company portion of the building has been standing for more than 100 years and received designation as a heritage building, which under the Ontario Heritage Act, could protect it from demolition.

To the west, another station would sit on Thornton Road near the Whitby-Oshawa border.

As far back as 2008, the province has pegged the location for a possible GO Station location.

For this reason, the City of Oshawa had denied a development application made by Halloway Development for the lands in question.

This decision was eventually appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board (now the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT), which upheld the city’s decision.

But finally, it seemed the project had a dedicated timeline.

In October 2017, then-Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca, during – surprise, a media photo opportunity – reaffirmed the Liberal government’s dedication to getting rail service into Bowmanville.

However, when Doug Ford and his Progressive Conservative Party rolled into power in June 2018, all provincial transit projects were up for review – although information was first scarce on what this meant for the future of the project.

To the bewilderment of local politicians, such as Henry, Carter, and Oshawa MPP Jennifer French, at the May 2019 town hall meeting in Whitby, Metrolinx officials made it clear the plan announced in 2016 was off the table – at least temporarily.

“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,” Metrolinx CEO Phil Verster told The Oshawa Express that night. “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, the government makes decisions and we implement them as soon as we can.”

Henry made it clear local patience was wearing thin.

We’ve been to these meetings several 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,” he said.

Soon after the meeting, Durham MPP Lindsey Park and current Minister of Transportation Jeff Yurek claimed the Liberal plan announced in 2016 wouldn’t be complete by 2024, and would likely cost twice as much as originally budgeted.

A Metrolinx official at another community meeting told The Express the costs estimated in the 2016 project ($550 million) had grown to anywhere between $750 million to $1.2 billion.

The original plan, plus three other options, were all on the table for Metrolinx’s review.

Over the past eight months, Henry, Carter and many other local politicians have taken every possible opportunity to continue to push for the original option, and it seems their voices resonated.

The route coming before the board of directors includes the four originally proposed stops.

One major difference this time around is with General Motors leaving Oshawa, Metrolinx can make use of an existing rail infrastructure to cross over Highway 401.

Instead of only four-train, peak-hour service, the Lakeshore East expansion, if approved, will see all-day two-way service.

Trains will travel express from Union Station in Toronto to Pickering, before making all stops within Durham Region.

As to why Metrolinx selected this option, Park said it utilizes existing rail infrastructure to cross Highway 401, services all major population areas and allows for the current Oshawa GO Station to remain open.

“This all helps to bring costs on the project down,” Park said.

Park has said it is much too early to nail down a possible construction start date, or when any of the four new stations will open.

Oshawa has seen its share of proposed GO rail projects that have faced delays or cancellations.

In the early 1980s, the province announced GO ALRT, a project which would have used electric train cars between Pickering and Oshawa, with stations proposed at Simcoe Street, Stevenson Road, and Harmony Road.

The plan was eventually scrapped in 1985, and GO rail transit wouldn’t come to Oshawa for another decade in 1995.

Metrolinx is hosting an open house on Saturday, Feb. 29, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Abilities Centre (55 Gordon Street) in Whitby.

This is an opportunity for members of the public to hear updates regarding the proposed expansion of the Lakeshore East line and other transit services.

To submit a question or for more information, visit