Local leaders hint Southwestern Ontario not left out of VIA Rail improvements

Higher frequency passenger rail may not be limited to the Toronto-Quebec corridor.

A day after Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra announced a procurement process to provide higher-frequency VIA Rail service from eastern Ontario to Quebec City, many passengers in train-starved Southwestern Ontario felt let down again.

Hassan Khazani had to be driven from Sarnia to catch the last train departing London.

“I’m surprised we don’t have better transportation,” laments Khazani. “It has to be better.”

The mayor hints that after lengthy talks with VIA Rail and senior governments, an announcement for southwestern Ontario is coming.

London Mayor Ed Holder hints that rail improvements are coming, but he’s keeping tight-lipped about details..

“In the near term, you are going to be hearing some positive news for London,” repeated Holder when pressed for details.

London North Centre MP Peter Fragiskatos commits that the region won’t be left out of rail frequency improvements.

“Yesterday was an early announcement in the sense that it focuses on a first phase, but there will be a second announcement,” Fragiskatos tells CTV News. “Keep in mind this has always been envisioned as a corridor that would stretch from Windsor into Quebec.”

Promised rail improvements are nothing new to the region.

In 2017, the previous provincial government promised a high-speed rail line would stretch from Toronto to Windsor.

The current provincial government suggested a scaled down high(er)-speed service using traditional trains.

Urgency for rail improvements grew in May when Greyhound Canada discontinued service in the area.

But thus far London remains on standby.

Holder says upcoming improvements must target three needs, “Higher speed, the second is higher frequency, and reliability.”

Fragiskatos suggests those criteria could all be met through higher frequency service.

“Higher frequency rail is still a huge advance from where we are. It will transform the way that people travel on rail.”