GO Transit’s Grimsby problem

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The Bruce Trail near Fifty Road, November 6, 2016

On Sunday, November 6, I took advantage of an unseasonably warm November day to go hiking on the Bruce Trail. I started in Grimsby and hiked for 23 kilometres west to the Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument in Hamilton. The hike was lovely as there was still some fall foliage left to enjoy, and the views above the Escarpment over Niagara vineyards and Lake Ontario were spectacular.

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View of Downtown Grimsby and Lake Ontario from the top of the Niagara Escarpment

In order to do this six hour, one-way hike, I took the train to Grimsby, and began my trip from there (enjoying a coffee and snack at a great local coffee shop first). Upon arriving at Stoney Creek, I took a Hamilton Street Railway bus downtown for dinner before taking a GO bus back to Toronto.

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View from the lookout at Devil’s Punch Bowl Conservation Area towards Hamilton Harbour

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The Stoney Creek Battlefield Monument, where I ended my hike as the sun began to set


When I go for a bike ride or a hike, whether it be a solo trip or a hike with friends, I like to plan the trip in advance, and to think about the transportation options for getting there. And so I come once again to thinking about Grimsby, GO Transit, VIA Rail, and local transit.

There is currently only one train each way between Toronto and Niagara Region — Amtrak’s Maple Leaf, which is operated by VIA crews on the Canadian side of the border. The Maple Leaf takes 12 hours and 30 minutes to get from Toronto’s Union Station to New York’s Penn Station, including a stop at the border for customs and immigration checks. Other delays, such as freight traffic and even ship traffic on the Welland Canal, make this train commonly late for Niagara passengers headed to Toronto in the evening. There was once a second daily VIA train between Toronto and Niagara Falls, scheduled to serve commuters, but it was cut by the Stephen Harper-led Conservative government in 2012.

img_6547-001Downtown Grimsby

GO Transit operates a summer weekend train service between Toronto and Niagara Falls, making stops at Port Credit, Oakville, Burlington, and St. Catharines, but not at Grimsby. GO Transit also operates a year-round bus service — Route 12 — that follows the QEW between Burlington GO Station and Downtown Niagara Falls, stopping at several park and ride lots and at Fairview Mall in St. Catharines, a secondary hub for local transit in that city.

The Maple Leaf Train leaves Union Station at 8:20 AM, 7 days a week, and arrives at Grimsby just after 9:30 AM, stopping only at Oakville and Aldershot. Taking GO Transit, it takes nearly two hours to get to the park and ride at Casablanca Boulevard, including the transfer time at Burlington Station.

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GO Transit Route 12

The Grimsby Amtrak/VIA station is located on Ontario Street, at a site picked by the Great Western Railway in 1853. It is a mere 5-10 minute walk to Downtown Grimsby, located in the centre of that community’s population. The GO Transit park and ride is located at the west end of town, at Casablanca Boulevard. The planned GO Transit Rail Station is located nearby. The bus stop and proposed rail station is located 3.5 kilometres from Downtown Grimsby, or a 45 minute walk.

img_6544-001Grimsby Station

The current railway station at Grimsby consists of only a small shelter and indoor waiting area, along with a small parking lot for VIA customers. The platform is small, about one rail car’s length. The VIA Rail Canada sign is almost as large as the station building itself. But for me, the railway station’s location was far more convenient than the GO bus stop at Casablanca Boulevard.

A new station at Casablanca Boulevard offers several advantages for GO Transit: easy access to the Queen Elizabeth Way, plenty of undeveloped land for a parking lot, and room for a platform for GO Transit’s 10-car and 12-car trains. But the location is not friendly for customers who wish to walk or cycle to the train, and without a local transit system, it’s inaccessible for many potential Grimsby commuters unless they were to take a taxi, get a ride, or drive their own car.

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Overlooking the QEW/Casablanca Boulevard interchange and the proposed location of the Grimsby GO Station. GO buses serve the park-and-ride lot in the middle ground. Note the clear view across the lake to Toronto.

I have argued here before that GO Transit has an unfortunate record of catering to motorists while mostly ignoring the needs of many of its current and potential customers. GO Transit’s need for large parking lots often precludes locating stations in more urban locations. By providing ‘free’ parking, GO forces all passengers to subsidize those who drive alone to its stations.

Of course, GO Transit is going to build Grimsby Station at Casablanca Boulevard; it was announced earlier this year as part of a GO service expansion project. But a useful local transit system, scheduled to connect with GO trains and buses, offering fare integration, can mitigate this problem. Transit riders shouldn’t be told to take a hike.

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5 Responses to GO Transit’s Grimsby problem

  1. Shaun Cleaver says:

    I have been watching the “GO Niagara discussion” for a few years now. Although I live in Toronto now, I grew up in Niagara Falls and still have close family members there. A few things about this story that are consistent to what I have been seeing:
    1) An obsession with trains.
    There are currently upwards of 25 buses/day connecting the major cities in Niagara to Toronto, but according to the local perspective, driving is the only way to access Toronto until “the train comes”. I’m not saying that the bus system is perfect, just that the dominant impression is that “there is none now, but it will all be better when GO comes [2x/day].”
    2) An obsession with parking.
    According to my family members now, the main weakness of the current Megabus/Greyhound/GO #12 bus options is that “you can’t get to the station.” Urbanist translation: insufficient parking. It will be a tough hurdle to break the cycle of auto dependency when all transit except park ‘n rides are largely ignored by the populace.
    3) A disregard for land without asphalt.
    Knowing what I know about you Sean, I suspect that you didn’t refer to the “undeveloped land for a parking lot” lightly. Much of Ontario’s rare tender fruit land has been covered with car storage. “What’s another few acres?” I wish that the Green Belt movement (or something) was stronger in Niagara such that city centres were not allowed to rot as the edges sprawl over field and forest.

    Thank you for at least paying attention to this issue. Although I think that GO transit design can make some headway, I think that “Niagara mentality” needs to be taken-on in order to make the transit expansion actually work.

  2. Smart Growth says:

    Hi Sean, great take on the Grimsby Go station location. If you’re interested in writing a guest blog please contact us at info@environmentaldefence.ca

  3. Grimsby Guy says:

    A new station in downtown Grimsby would service almost nobody, because the 25,000 existing residents are spread out over a large suburban area. By contrast, a station at Casablanca will be directly across the QEW from where new high density construction is now happening, and will in a few short years accommodate 10-15,000 residents, within a short bike ride or walk to the station. A bus service is also being tested for Grimsby, from Barlett Road in the East end, to Casablanca, through the downtown.

    • If the new bus service is able to serve all GO departures and arrivals, then perhaps Casablanca Blvd. isn’t a terrible place. But depending on auto traffic to serve a “transit” system isn’t the way to go without those connections.

      Note that downtown Grimsby is served by a direct interchange off the QEW as well – the Ontario/Maple/Christie exit.

      • Grimsby Guy says:

        Sure, OK, but the point is……so few live in downtown Grimsby….the high density, growing population, is in the West end around Casablanca.

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