London’s rail station may need to be replaced for the ‘multimodal’ future of high-speed rail and BRT

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Will London repeat the great train station demolition of February 2001?

The city is throwing its support behind the Ontario government’s bid to build a high-speed rail line from Toronto to Windsor, and a report by city staff says a new downtown train station may be in London’s future.

“This continues to be a critical element of integrating and looking into the future and planning ahead,” Coun. Paul Hubert, who sits on council’s civic works committee, said of high-speed rail.

A key element of the report to be discussed next week by the committee is consideration of “an integrated multimodal transportation mobility hub” in downtown London that would integrate high-speed rail, Via Rail and London Transit.

It may be too early to know exactly what that means, except that London will have a more connected future in the core, said Edward Soldo, director of roads and transportation for the city.

“I see this as an opportunity for a new multimodal station where high speed, rapid transit, Via can interact.”

Premier Kathleen ­Wynne announced two months ago in London that the Ontario government is proceeding with high-speed rail for Southwestern Ontario, a project that has been talked about for decades.

The first leg linking London to Toronto is projected to be completed in 2025. The line would be extended to Windsor in 2031. The total cost is pegged at $20 billion.

City officials are working with the province on the plan, Soldo said. “I think council has been very clear, they see HSR as very positive for the city. The province is engaging all municipalities along the corridor.”

The high-speed rail line would share the station with Via Rail and may connect to the bus rapid transit line, now proposed to run along Richmond, King and Wellington streets and Queens Avenue, in the downtown. That would mean there would be more people at the station and it is not certain yet whether the city will build a new station or revamp and expand the existing one, Soldo said.

The current Via station on York Street opened in October 2001, eight months after thousands of Londoners watched the old 10-storey station blow up in a controlled demolition.

The report to the committee points, however, to potential changes to the 16-year-old station.

“A new multimodal station constructed at downtown London’s existing VIA Rail station would be part of the city centre’s multimodal hub development. Once completed, this hub would include two new HSR platforms, three Via Rail platforms for continued Toronto-London service . . . as well as connections to the London Shift bus rapid transit (BRT) service and other local bus services.”

The province and the city need to work together, Hubert said.

“It is about integrating transportation and land use planning and they have to talk to each other and inform each other, or we will have a mess,” Hubert said.

Echoing language used by local politicians, city staff say in the report that high-speed rail will be an economic and transportation game-changer for the city and wider region.

“It will provide congestion relief along the provincial highway system, reduce air emissions, promote the Southwestern and central Ontario economy through better goods movement and provide commuters with the speed and comfort required to make non-automobile travel, a sustainable, environmentally friendly and viable transportation mobility choice.”

The report says high-speed rail will have dedicated passenger lines, not shared with other rail lines.

Toronto to Windsor is home to seven million people and the business case for high-speed rail is strongest between Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo and London, it adds.

“This part of the corridor demonstrates high levels of economic and population growth and is one of Canada’s most innovative regions.”

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