Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hamilton's LRT choice: Don't screw it up again!

27 years ago, the local council in Hamilton screwed the city royally when it rejected a rapid transit line that the Bill Davis goverment offered to build for free. The technology was then sold to the Lower Mainland of BC where it became the Skytrain and the rest is history.

This week, Hamilton's city council finally agreed to push ahead with its bid to have Metrolinx -- the regional transit authority for the GTA and Hamilton -- fund the costs of turning the present B-line east-west Hamilton express bus into a surface level LRT line; as well a later "A-line" running north-south from the airport down Upper James and James and onto the harbourfront.

There are two huge catches however.

First: There's still a debate about whether to have the line go down the Clairmount (missing key points such as St. Joseph's Hospital and the GO Station), or to build a tunnel through the Escarpnent to connect James and Upper James. At minimum, this could add $100 million to the project cost. I think it's worth the cost -- no point pissing off hospital employees and patients' guests who might actually want fast access to the campus.

Second: The city wants Metrolinx to cover the full costs of construction of the two lines (about $1.2 billion) while the city would later pick up the operating costs.

If this is the strategy Hamilton is hoping to work on, it just won't fly. On the first count, places such as Peel and York Regions are way ahead of Hamilton, with rights-of-way for rapid transit already set aside and ready to go (a Transitway-like line in Mississauga and Brampton; and bus only lanes down the medians of Highway 7 and Young Street in York). We can't even figure out if we should have a wrong-way concurrency for the B-line or have them split along where King and Main Streets run one-way.

On the second count capital construction for public transit has always been a three way proposition split between the federal, provincial and local governments. I'm sure the province would be more than happy to download public transit operations onto the cities 100% but they subsidize the services knowing that super high fares would get even more people into their cars and trucks.

Hamilton is much more cash-strapped than other cities right now but they need to be more pragmatic knowing the payoffs LRT provides in cities across North America and in the EU that have them. My message to the Marbleheads: Don't fuck it up again and put Hamilton into another 30 year downward spiral backing onto the present one.

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Anonymous said...

Damn you Shelbyville!

Let's face it, if there is a way to screw it up they will. sigh

David Graham - said...

Out of curiosity, do any of the routes they want to use run on existing tracks? Hamilton has industrial railway tracks going every-which-way as it is, and could run from downtown (GO station) to the harbourfront via the CP Beltline, and hospital via the CN Grimsby sub, using existing tracks, albeit not as fast as a fancy new RoW.

I'm all for LRT construction wherever we can get it. One of the things that kills me is the number of tracks in southern ontario that connect cities to eachother that had passenger service years ago but no more, including the former CP Goderich sub that ran from Hamilton downtown to Goderich via Guelph. This track still exists under different names, and with a little vision, cities like Hamilton, Brantford, Guelph, Kitchener, Waterloo, and Cambridge, could all be inexpensively linked by LRT.

BlastFurnace said...

April, I'm only 36 years old but I'm young enough to remember both the earlier LRT screwjob and the destruction of Gore Park. You're probably right, City Hall will never learn.

Even K-W-Cambridge is way ahead of us on the curve on this one and their LRT line (to replace the very popular iXpress bus) is an almost certain go. They're already at least one step ahead of Hamilton because the express bus gets priority at traffic signals. We don't even have that for the B-line here.

BlastFurnace said...

David, if you're referring to the beltline that used to run down Ferguson Avenue, that was abandoned and ripped out years ago. A second CP line that crawled up the Escarpment and swung over to Caledonia has long been abandoned and is now a recreational trail.

There's also a short branch line that goes from the CN line (as you said, the Grimsby subdivision) through the industrial district and could be used to traffic people to and from downtown; but that sub is run by Railink and I don't even know if they're in the picture right now.

What gets me is that Hamilton did have a streetcar line system and later a system of trolley buses. Both very efficient and clean -- but the complaint was they were too slow compared to natural gas and diesel-electric buses and Hamilton naturally cut and run on them.

So putting in new infrastructure pretty much along where it was abandoned makes us look rather silly -- while making cities that kept their streetcar lines like Toronto quite enlightened by comparison.

David Graham - said...

Thanks. No, I'm referring to the beltline that runs from CP Kinnear yard under the Grimsby sub and into the harbour area. It's serviced daily by CP and is definitely not abandoned. It just seems to me that if CN, CP, and SOR tracks are used, which already connect many of the major points in the city, a service can get going a lot faster, just like Guelph and K-W/Cambridge could get LRT service going quickly if we used the Fergus, Guelph, and Waterloo subdivisions to advantage.

I'd love to see a new right of way built if it improves the service, but in the current economic climate anything is better than nothing.

BlastFurnace said...

Sorry I misunderstood. Yes, that would also be a viable option; especially if some way could be made to connect that line back to the Grimsby sub, so that GO Trains could go from downtown on to Grimsby, St. Catherines and Niagara Falls. Then one would have the best of both worlds -- an LRT and heavy commuter rail running side by side.

Also lost in the discussion: There are quite a few people in Hamilton who work in the Golden Triangle and vv. Why isn't there any talk about commuter rail service between them?

I agree with you on the last point: In the current environment, an infrastructure investment like this would be very positive and the short-term payoffs substantial.