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Group pushes rail upgrades


PETER GEIGEN-MILLER, Free Press Reporter   2004-01-14 03:49:15  



An advocacy group plans public meetings in London and other area communities to press for upgrades to the line that carries Via Rail trains from London to Toronto through Stratford and Kitchener. Transport 2000 is holding the meetings to focus on the cancellation of Amtrak's Chicago-Toronto train and the need for Ottawa to spend more on tracks and equipment along the north main line.

Improvements to the line are needed so trains can run faster and permit more frequent Via Rail service, said Transport 2000 spokesperson Paul Langan.

He said top speed on the line is 90 kilometres an hour. That compares with top speeds of 140 km/h on the main London-Brantford-Oakville-Toronto line.

The urgent need for upgrades to the north line was illustrated last week when an eastbound Via train derailed near New Hamburg, east of Stratford, said Langan.

One woman was slightly injured when she was splashed by hot coffee.

"This accident might have been prevented with an investment in improved infrastructure on this line," he said.

The north line is important to thousands of people who commute for work or school between London and Kitchener, Waterloo, Guelph, Stratford, St. Marys and Sarnia, said Langan.

"Unfortunately, the current frequency of Via Rail service is grossly inadequate to meet the needs."

Better and cheaper rail passenger service would lure more people out of cars and help take the load off Highways 401 and 402, Langan said.

Former federal transport minister David Collenette announced last summer that Ottawa planned to provide $700 million to upgrade rail lines and equipment in the Windsor-Quebec core.

After taking office Prime Minister Paul Martin put the spending in doubt.

The second item on the meeting agenda will be Amtrak's plans to drop its Toronto-Chicago train because of declining passenger volume.

MEETING SCHEDULE

- Jan. 23, Sarnia -- 7 p.m., council chambers, 255 N. Christina St.

- Jan. 24, St. Marys -- 2 p.m., town hall auditorium, 175 Queen St. E. (use Queen Street entrance).

- Jan. 24, Stratford -- 6 p.m., Kiwanis Community Centre, 111 Lakeside Dr.

- Jan 28, London -- 7 p.m., YMCA, 382 Waterloo St., board room.

Meetings also are planned in Kitchener and Guelph.


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