After what truly seems like an entirety, last Thursday the initial report on the feasibility of commuter rail for our city was revealed. The reveal happened at Sunnyside Mall in Bedford, it was mainly a modified version of show and tell. While the information presented leaves questions, I feel that is a good preliminary step in the right direction.
The commuter rail study comes at exactly the perfect time. Halifax Transit is in the midst of a network redesign, to re-imagine how public transit services are delivered in our beautiful city. When we consider the Draft Halifax Transit Plan, the Active Transportation Plan and The Commuter rail plan; we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop a comprehensive, multifaceted integrated regional public transportation network. Commuter rail should be part of this network to help connect communities such as Elmsdale, Beaverbank, Sackville, Windsor Junction and Bedford to peninsular Halifax. Having commuter rail in our city would be means to decrease single-use vehicles on the road network, increase active transportation participation within the peninsular and by putting less cars on the road allow us to leverage environmental benefits for all residents. There has been over the last several years a constant mantra of a “world class” city here in Halifax but without a properly integrated regional public transportation system- how great are we?
1,2,3 Train with me...
An easy to use properly integrated regional public transportation network is not only important for residents but also for visitors. We lack adequate connections for some of our green spaces across the city that are used for free recreation by locals and visitors alike. In that lens, I propose some changes to the rail network. In the commuter rail proposal they are suggesting 11 stops in the city with the line running from Elmsdale to South End Halifax. The termination point in the South End is the Via Rail station; however I find that problematic because of the lack of bus connections for that area. Also, I find that with 11 stops based on the travel time from Elmsdale into Halifax of 58 minutes does not make it competitive compared to car travel times. Instead of 11 stops on the line, with it terminating at Via Rail I suggest we terminate the line at Mumford. This would I believe allow two things to happen: it would make this commuter option more appealing to residents and also it would provide a better means of connections into the conventional bus network. Additionally, I would add a stop at the airport and stop the current bus that runs to the airport. Effectively, we could reduce the line to a total of 8 stops with the elimination of the downtown-south peninsular stops. Running trains right into downtown would provide duplication of service which is what transit is trying to rightful avoid.
But what will it cost??
In the report CPCS states that capital costs could range from $26 - $130 million with estimated operating costs ranging from $14 - $16 million – depending on the level of service initiated. While, I admit those are large sums, one must temper them with other amounts of money that we expense for municipal services. I feel in the long term it is a small price to pay for the long term benefits residents and the environment will gain from a proper regional public transit network.
Who wants to climb on board?