Report Released on the Case to Return VIA Commuter Train to Service

COBOURG, ON, Sept. 8, 2022 /CNW/ – A partnership of municipalities in eastern Ontario has released a report detailing the critical need for the return of VIA Rail Canada’s commuter train service along the Kingston to Toronto corridor. Based on a survey of residents in this region between July 7 and August 5, 2022, the report anticipates ridership for Train 651 will be greater than pre-pandemic levels and, if train service is not returned, these residents will be hard hit, with increased barriers to accessing job opportunities, education and retraining, and medical appointments.

“With over 2800 commuter responses, our report clearly supports the case for the return of VIA Rail Canada’s commuter Train 651,” states Bob Sanderson, Northumberland County Councillor and Chair of the Economic Development, Planning and Tourism Committee, on behalf of the partnership. “Eastern Ontario riders need this train to get to work, to get to school for education and training, and to seek needed medical treatments. We are calling upon VIA Rail Canada to welcome riders back to Train 651.”

Train 651, VIA’s commuter train servicing the Kingston to Toronto corridor, was suspended early in the COVID-19 pandemic due to a drop in ridership.  As of the end of June 2022, most of VIA Rail Canada’s previous train routes have resumed across the country, however Train 651 has not yet been reinstated.  Now that Ontario is open again, there is growing concern among residents in this region over the lack of service. The counties of Northumberland and Hastings, and the cities of Quinte West, Belleville and Kingston, have partnered to press for action by VIA with the release of a new report.

To help present their case to both the federal Minister of Transport and VIA Rail Canada, the group has today released: The Case for Getting VIA Train 651 Back on Track: A report on the critical importance of commuter train services for a growing Eastern Ontario, which demonstrates the critical importance for Eastern Ontario commuters to have access to affordable and convenient train transportation rather than making the choice between unemployment or a costly and time-consuming commute.

The report shows commuter demand and usage will not only return to pre-pandemic levels but is expected to increase significantly from previous years. The report also highlights the impact the current loss of service is having on the economy and the environment, with the absence of this service creating a hardship for many commuters traveling to work given the rising cost of fuel for vehicles.

“Our report confirms that 96 per cent of pre-covid users would return to this service, with 31 per cent of all survey respondents identifying as new users eager to access this service. The data suggests that if VIA Train 651 returns, ridership levels will be stronger than pre-pandemic use,” remarks Councillor Sanderson. “The labour force in Eastern Ontario is stronger than pre-pandemic levels and our population is growing at a faster rate than the rest of the province. Our workforce needs this rail service as an alternative to costly vehicle use and residents want to make a responsible choice when it comes to the environment.”

The group has sent a request for a meeting, along with the report, to both the federal Minister of Transport, who oversees the mandate for getting people safely to where they need to go, and to VIA Rail Canada, urging for action in returning VIA commuter Train 651 to service.

Eastern Ontario needs fast, reliable and sustainable transportation options,” states Councillor Sanderson. “We need to get our thriving labour force to work, students and adults to school to acquire in-demand skills and retraining, and the service is also needed by residents to get to much needed medical treatments. It is time to get Train 651 back on track.”

Full details of the report, The Case for Getting VIA Train 651 Back on Track, can viewed at https://JoinIn.Northumberland.ca/keeping-your-commute-on-track  

Highlights of the report:

The Case for Getting VIA Train 651 Back on Track: Report on the critical importance of commuter train services for a growing Eastern Ontario

View the full report here.

Overview

Between July 7 and August 5, 2022, municipal partners including the counties of Northumberland and Hastings, and the cities of Quinte West, Belleville and Kingston, surveyed residents of the region about their past use and anticipated future need of VIA Rail Canada’s commuter train services, and about the impact of the loss of these services. The survey was available online and it garnered 2,811 responses.

  • Pre-Covid riders valued Train 651 for the convenience, affordability and access to employment, education, and medical treatments.
    • 66% used VIA Train 651 for work and 14% used the service for education and medical purposes, with 76% of the users accessing the service one or more times per week.
  • When Train 651 service resumes, ridership will be stronger than pre-pandemic usage.
    • 96% of pre-Covid users will return when the service is resumed, with 31% of all survey respondents who indicated intent to access this service identifying as new users.
  • Without the return to service, workers in this region of Eastern Ontario will be hard hit.
    • 85% of all survey respondents intend to access this service, with 70% intending to ride the train one or more times per week.
    • 64% of intended users need this service as an alternative to rising household expenses and high vehicle fuel costs.
    • 82% of intended users want to avoid vehicle use and 63% want to take-action with climate change.

SOURCE Northumberland County

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