Unlocking More GO Train Service to Hamilton and on to Niagara region

As we continue to look behind the scenes at work taking place at Metrolinx, we want to focus on rail service to and from Hamilton. It’s an important corridor requiring extensive investment and special tactics to add new service. We’re getting there, and here’s how.

The fact that there isn’t more frequent train service throughout the day between Hamilton and Toronto has caused debate and discussion for GO Transit customers.

And for good reason. Hamilton is one of the most important cities in Canada and the rail corridor is right there — so why not just run more trains on it?

For GO Transit customers, it’s been a riddle. But it’s one that is being worked on and solved.

A massive crane lifts a piece of bridge into place near Hamilton's West Harbour GO Station

Infrastructure work continues in Hamilton near West Harbour GO Station.

Metrolinx is looking at solutions that will stand the test of time. For Metrolinx senior manager, Joe Costigan Jr., a fourth generation railroader, this project feels especially close to home. He was born in Hamilton, but like many families in the rail industry, he moved to wherever CN Rail stationed his father.

“We basically moved to wherever my father was stationed around Ontario – we lived in St. Thomas, London, Sarnia, Stratford and Windsor, among other places,” says Costigan.

Joe Costigan stands for a photo by the tracks with a hardhat on and a reflective vest.

Working on the railroad is a family tradition for Joe Costigan.

Now he has settled back in his hometown of Hamilton, where he lives with his wife and their two young daughters. After joining Metrolinx in 2011, Costigan has been working on expanding service into Hamilton and on to Niagara region for the last six years.

“My time here has certainly been exciting in that way,” says the senior manager of corridor extensions. “I get to be part of a process that will help build my community and shape the way it will evolve into the future.”

Costigan has seen how the neighbourhood around West Harbour has built up over the years, and is confident the positive trend will continue thanks to more transit options.

A photo of Joe Costigan Sr. holding his son Joe Jr. beside a CN motor car taken in Sarnia, Ontario in 1979.

Joe Costigan Sr. with Joe Jr. beside a CN motor car in Sarnia, Ontario in 1979.

“Growing up in a railroad family, I have very vivid memories of talking about the railroad at home and what goes on with it,” Costigan continues. “The railroad becomes your life in a way and I am fortunate to have grown up around it and also to have worked for CN to start my career,” he said.

“That has allowed me to build some great relationships and rapport with them and they are reflective of Metrolinx’s positive relationship with them now.”

Photo of yhe Expansion of the Centennial Parkway Bridge in Stoney Creek.

The Expansion of the Centennial Parkway Bridge in Stoney Creek.

It is those good relations, combined with a lot of new infrastructure built over the past few years, which has culminated in the start of regular weekday train service connecting Niagara Falls and St. Catharines with Union Station – four years ahead of schedule.

This also allowed us to start running two more trains in and out of West Harbour and extend the Niagara weekend service to run all year round, earlier this summer.

Of course, Metrolinx does not own any of the corridor infrastructure past Burlington GO Station, so we have to plan, design and build everything with the corridor owners and their short-term and long-term goals in mind.

In fact, the stretch of track past Aldershot GO Station that eventually bends around Burlington Bay and towards Hamilton is a key east-west freight movement artery between Toronto and Chicago, Buffalo and the northeast US. It is a pinch-point where numerous corridors owned by two different freight carriers converge. This area through Bayview Junction known as “the throat” is vital to their business and any new infrastructure and service has to account for existing and future freight carrier schedules.

The chances of passenger trains – not just GO Transit, but also VIA Rail and Amtrak – mixing with freight trains that do not necessarily run on rigid schedules and can occupy sections of track as long as two kilometres, pose serious scheduling and logistical challenges.

However, we are actually further along than many people may think. For example, much of the work that we have completed so far is not visible to the public because it is located below York Boulevard in Hamilton.

Cranes lift a large piece of steel into place during construction on a rail bridge at the Desjardins Canal Bridge

Installation of the second span on the Desjardins Canal Bridge.

“We actually have done a great deal of work already, “ Costigan recounts.

That work includes:

  • New third track from just south of Bayview Junction into the Stuart Rail Yard
  • Completion of West Harbour GO Station
  • Expansion of bridges over Centennial Parkway and Desjardins Canal
  • Replacement of the bridge over Valley Inn Road
  • Completion of the new layover facility on Lewis Road in Winona
  • New and upgraded signals infrastructure at Bayview Junction, Hamilton Junction, Dundurn and Stuart signal plants

All of these things help, but more work remains to be done and there are a few different areas of need. Increasing the track capacity to accommodate more trains without impacting efficiency of train movements through the Bayview Junction bottleneck requires a third track and associated signalling and track switching infrastructure between Desjardins Canal and West Harbour GO Station – followed by testing and commissioning.

“We will also need a new east-end connection to the mainline track at West Harbour, which will enable trains to pass right through the station,” Costigan continues. “Our customers will be happy to hear that this will improve journey times through the area.”

Historically, this has been a very complex place to work, in terms of its topography and its geographical setting.

The track at Bayview Junction runs through the Royal Botanical Gardens, so it is definitely a picturesque sight, but it is also very constrained. It is basically a causeway confined by the escarpment on one side and the lake on the other, and it all runs over unstable and pretty unpredictable terrain.

Planning new infrastructure for this area requires careful consideration of a number of these factors and at times solutions that are somewhat atypical. For example, a ‘rock fall’ fence was installed to withstand 20-ton objects travelling at up to 100 km/h along a section of the corridor to protect the rail from falling debris. The fence connects into the train signal system and it will stop trains if something does hit the fence – all to protect the infrastructure and customers.

Now, here is the best news: the most crucial infrastructure work is now either complete or underway!

Earlier this summer we completed the testing and commissioning of a rail crossover at Bayview Junction that will allow us to separate our trains from the frequent freight traffic in the area. This is a critical key piece of infrastructure that will ultimately allow us to put more trains on the tracks and optimize the on time performance for all our current and future trains in and out of Hamilton, West Harbour and Niagara.

We are also currently working with the corridor owners on rebuilding the John Street Bridge, located just east of West Harbour station. The new bridge will allow additional space for more tracks towards the future Confederation station in Stoney Creek and on to Niagara.

A massive crane lifts a piece of concrete into place during the widening work on the John Street Bridge in Hamilton.

Replacement of the John Street Bridge in Hamilton is a big step in the right direction.

Over the next couple of months, we will be doing more track work at Hamilton Junction and activating the second mainline between CN Hamilton Junction and CN Stuart Yard. Similarly, to the John Street Bridge, we will be starting work on other bridges in Hamilton to create corridor capacity through Hamilton.

All-day GO Train service for Hamilton is closer now that it ever has been before.

“This is a big deal not just for me and my team,” Costigan reflects. “Project coordinators Paul Bachan and Tom Clarke as well as the of the leadership Thom Budd – the V.P. of the entire service extensions group, and over forty years of his railway engineering and infrastructure experience puts me in good hands.”

“Expanding GO service really is equally exciting news for everybody at Metrolinx as it is for the communities we serve.”

You can sign up for updates on our progress on expanding GO service to Hamilton and ask any questions at Hamilton@metrolinx.com.

Story by Robert Pasiak, Metrolinx senior advisor, communications and community relations