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Toronto-Muskoka Rail Service

SaugeenJunction

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I was scanning the internet, when I came across the following page on the Municipality of Muskoka's website:

Town Hall Meeting - Aug 23: Committee Promoting Muskoka Rail Travel (CPMRT)

It discusses the "Committee Promoting Muskoka Rail Travel (CPMRT)" and includes a survey to gauge people's interest in seeing a Toronto-Muskoka (or even as far as North Bay) rail service. Yes, the ONTC's Northlander used to serve this role, but it seems as if "the north", but mainly Muskoka here is decently keen on exploring the feasibility of reinstating some sort of service.

I figured I'd make a thread as to follow any developments or proposals that spring from this, but mods it's really up to you!
 

crs1026

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Back in the days of the Northlander, a good business was done at Bracebridge and Gravenhurst and Muskoka. The area's total population may be higher than one realises in that there are many year-round cottagers who in today's "work from home" and telecommuting environment might find a train to Toronto useful for the days that they have to be in the city.

I'm not wildly optimistic but this is an interesting development.

- Paul
 

SaugeenJunction

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Back in the days of the Northlander, a good business was done at Bracebridge and Gravenhurst and Muskoka. The area's total population may be higher than one realises in that there are many year-round cottagers who in today's "work from home" and telecommuting environment might find a train to Toronto useful for the days that they have to be in the city.

I'm not wildly optimistic but this is an interesting development.

- Paul

I have a fair amount of friends who have Muskoka cottages and take the GO up from their Toronto-based jobs on Friday evenings to meet their family in Barrie as to avoid the 400. If a train went deeper into Muskoka, I think that during the summer months there could be decent ridership.

Also, here is a little bit of interesting history, of when CN got back into the passenger business in Muskoka in 1996. Full Twitter thread from the Toronto Railway Museum (here).

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gweed123

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I'm in favour of this. I've long been an advocate for a new type of GO service, basically a hybrid between GO and VIA, that would run these ~2-3hr distance trips to places like Muskoka, London, Niagara Falls, Peterborough, and Belleville/Trenton. It would overlap the RER service, where once it hits the RER service area it runs express to Union. It wouldn't use GO coaches (too uncomfortable for a distance like that), and would be closer to what UPX offers in terms of comfort (however, without the brown uniforms).

Thinking a bit longer term, running this overlapping with VIA would allow VIA to pull off of the milk run routes, and focus on express trips between major urban centres. A Toronto-Montreal or Toronto-Ottawa train would no longer need to stop in Port Hope, as this GO service would be serving that market instead.
 

TOareaFan

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Northlander, a good business was done at Bracebridge and Gravenhurst and Muskoka.

I assume "Muskoka" means Huntsville.....because, both, Gravenhurst and Bracebridge are also in Muskoka.

It was a decent (if slow) service that I used a few times a year over a 3 or 4 year period.....but, TBH, it did not appeal to too many people.
 

dowlingm

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I would like to see two services:
  • a daily round trip North Bay-Toronto-North Bay operated by VIA and subsidised by Ontario (similar to Amtrak PRIIA arrangements)
  • a Niagara or Cape Flyer type weekend Toronto-Muskoka-Toronto service operated by GO as far north as a six-pack's range would reasonably permit.
 

TOareaFan

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I would like to see two services:
  • a daily round trip North Bay-Toronto-North Bay operated by VIA and subsidised by Ontario (similar to Amtrak PRIIA arrangements)
  • a Niagara or Cape Flyer type weekend Toronto-Muskoka-Toronto service operated by GO as far north as a six-pack's range would reasonably permit.
I think the Muskoka service is always gonna be lightly used....the stations are in town centres.....when people go to Muskoka that is not what they are going for.....nowhere is the "last mile" problem so pronounced than in cottage country.

A better candidate (IMO) would be weekend service to the ski hills of Collingwood/Blue Mountain (no one need jump on me about lack of tracks....I am just looking at it from a business/usage perspective)...there you have a natural end point where there is a concentration of hotels for mult-day vacationers and a very defined location for a specific activity for day trippers......and since a lot of their day trips take place in sub-optimal driving weather there would be incentive for day trippers to take a reliable railed alternative.....but Muskoka is to spread out and varied in its destinations and activities to attract a lot of rail use for day/weekend trips.
 

dowlingm

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I think the Muskoka service is always gonna be lightly used....the stations are in town centres.....when people go to Muskoka that is not what they are going for.....nowhere is the "last mile" problem so pronounced than in cottage country.

A better candidate (IMO) would be weekend service to the ski hills of Collingwood/Blue Mountain (no one need jump on me about lack of tracks....I am just looking at it from a business/usage perspective)...there you have a natural end point where there is a concentration of hotels for mult-day vacationers and a very defined location for a specific activity for day trippers......and since a lot of their day trips take place in sub-optimal driving weather there would be incentive for day trippers to take a reliable railed alternative.....but Muskoka is to spread out and varied in its destinations and activities to attract a lot of rail use for day/weekend trips.
The counter argument though is that there are other last mile options now. Amtrak is partnering with Lyft https://media.amtrak.com/2017/08/amtrak-lyft-announce-rideshare-partnership/ The principal issue previously was that ONTC, Metrolinx and VIA weren't working together, but VIA found multi modal religion just after Northlander ceased. Getting two Ontario government entities from different ministries to work together might be more difficult especially when Metrolinx staff assisted in winding down Northlander.

As for ski services: we can all propose services to places with no tracks. There has to be a credible proposition to get them there.
 

TOareaFan

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The counter argument though is that there are other last mile options now. Amtrak is partnering with Lyft https://media.amtrak.com/2017/08/amtrak-lyft-announce-rideshare-partnership/ The principal issue previously was that ONTC, Metrolinx and VIA weren't working together, but VIA found multi modal religion just after Northlander ceased. Getting two Ontario government entities from different ministries to work together might be more difficult especially when Metrolinx staff assisted in winding down Northlander.

Yep, rideshare services in high population areas where someone is exiting a train to take them to their home at the end of the day and, in most cases, will have a car in their driveway when they get there will be part of the last mile solution.

In places like Muskoka where the population is small, the density is ridiculously low and it is a vacation spot ...I am not so sure that a) you will get much interest from the Lyfts of the world in setting up there and b) it will solve the riders problems.

As for ski services: we can all propose services to places with no tracks. There has to be a credible proposition to get them there.

I wasn't proposing a service....I was contrasting the destinations and saying if we could get rails there the destination makes more sense and would likely draw better use.....but, lets take the discussion a bit further......one of our problems with rail in this province (perhaps the entire country....i don't know) is that we too easily determine where we are going to run service based on the proximity of tracks that someone laid 150 years ago....we don't ask the question "where should we run service to" we ask the question "where do the current tracks go".

So, in this discussion, regardless of Muskoka being a destination that would be cheaper to run service to, yes, I would much prefer spending money to get to a destination like Colingwood that might have better ridership/usage. Just my opinion.
 

dowlingm

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Yep, rideshare services in high population areas where someone is exiting a train to take them to their home at the end of the day and, in most cases, will have a car in their driveway when they get there will be part of the last mile solution.

In places like Muskoka where the population is small, the density is ridiculously low and it is a vacation spot ...I am not so sure that a) you will get much interest from the Lyfts of the world in setting up there and b) it will solve the riders problems.
Perhaps. However, I suspect those communities are watching what Innisfil are doing with Uber to see if it has application to them.

One thing I wonder about with a weekend service is whether Beaverton would work as a "day-trip" type spot for people in Toronto who want a change from the Islands. I haven't been near there in years - anyone have local knowledge of the potential there?

The more pressing issue for a putative Muskoka service would be the state of the ONR trackage beyond the junction at Washago, which I recall someone posting some time back as being pretty marginal for passenger service at decent speeds.
 

Kitsune

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... there is enough interest to run bus service from Toronto to Algonquin park and some of the provincial parks in Muskoka. I imagine train service would work just as well.
 

TOareaFan

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... there is enough interest to run bus service from Toronto to Algonquin park and some of the provincial parks in Muskoka. I imagine train service would work just as well.
Again...those are single point destinations and the bus runs right to them. Using Algonquin as an example, the closest the train gets to Algonquin is Huntsville.....32km to the south east of Algonquin Outfitters at the southern tip of the park. So still needing some transport to get to the park...about 30 minutes by road along 60....if I recall the Northlander was scheduled for a bit more than 3 hours to get to Huntsville (never experienced it being on time and my longest journey was a bit more than 4 1/2 hours)....so allowing for transfer time at the station...a train to bus (or other modern "last 32km solution") has a travel time of about 4 hours.....parkbus takes 4 hours to the same location without any transfers (and the uncertainty they present).
 

DSC

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... there is enough interest to run bus service from Toronto to Algonquin park and some of the provincial parks in Muskoka. I imagine train service would work just as well.
You do realise that a bus holds far fewer people than a train and costs far less to operate. Just because a bus is profitable hardly means a train will be.
 

crs1026

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The limitations of the existing rail infrastructure are indeed the fatal weakness. CN can't or won't run a triweekly passenger run (the Canadian) on a much slower schedule south of Washago. North of Washago, the track needs work. The investment needed would be unaffordable given other priorities.

I do believe that a train would outsell a bus on this route because bus is susceptible to the same issues that makes driving unattractive - weather, road conditions, and lack of parallel road options during road closures for accidents, etc and the congestion on the last leg into Toronto. But even train is iffy in the winter (when one might most be tempted to use it) because road conditions outside the towns can be awful until the plows can clean up after storms..... the folks living at the lake who might form a daily or occasional commuting base will stay home rather than risk the drive to the depot.

But the idea should not be dismissed and forgotten. The highways around Toronto are full, period. We need to be thinking of solutions that would drain the highways. All of the rail routes that could offer express services to/from areas beyond the eventual reach of RER are part of that. If you stand at Weber's and assume that even one in a hundred cars is a potential train user.... you fill a train pretty quickly. The potential ridership is there, it's the investment outlay that is the challenge.

- Paul
 
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steveintoronto

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I think a model already exists in the Niagara Bike Trains. When the Barrie daytime train service starts, an extension on a morning run out, and a later run in in could be configured, and almost inevitably, just for the weekend. There would have to be a sizable surcharge to keep costs balanced, but for some, like myself, an avid country distance cyclist, it would still be far cheaper than paying for lifts from friends with cars, or if there's a number of us, a van, to be dropped off at a point where transit access doesn't exist. The need for new trails and roads is a very pressing demand for many avid cyclists, as well as those wishing to explore on foot.

Here's some retrospect:
Cyclists can now take Bike Train from Toronto to Lake Muskoka
The Bike Train network in Ontario is expanding, with three new weekend routes from Toronto added for this summer and fall.

Mon., Aug. 9, 2010

The Bike Train network in Ontario is expanding, with three new weekend routes from Toronto added for this summer and fall.

Launched with Via Rail between Toronto and Niagara in 2007, the Bike Trains now take cyclists to recreational trails and road routes across the province.

Passengers ride a train to their destination, with their bicycles secured in a baggage car equipped with bike racks. Bike Train staff hand out cycling maps and provide information.

A Gravenhurst and Bracebridge trip scheduled for Aug. 27-29 will bring passengers from Toronto's Union Station to explore the shores of Lake Muskoka and a loop around Lake Rosseau. A self-guided itinerary includes a 30-kilometre ride from Gravenhurst to Bracebridge.

An excursion to Huntsville planned for Sept. 17-19 is billed as offering exhilarating rides through a beautiful and hilly part of Muskoka.

And a Sept. 24-26 trip to South River near Algonquin Provincial Park will feature a ride through scenic back-country and a chance to take in the fall colours.

For adult and child ticket prices and details on hotel accommodations, go here.

The Bike Train is a project of Transportation Options, a non-profit organization. Other destinations include Niagara, North Bay, the St. Lawrence Seaway and Windsor/Essex County.
https://www.thestar.com/news/gta/20..._bike_train_from_toronto_to_lake_muskoka.html

VIA obviously don't run the Niagara Bike Train anymore, it's now a GO operation, and highly successful. There are details to this story I'll explore later, I'm off to cycle 100 kms, the Summer is ebbing away...well...what little we had of sunny days. These types of trains don't lack for a demand, what they lack is *marketing*. I'm still voracious to do the Midland to Orillia to Barrie rail-trails, waiting for a friend's car to get fixed, and for the weathermen to decide just what the weather is going to do. I'd get dropped at Midland and catch a GO bus back to TO from Barrie (2 1/2 hour ride, not relishing that, but one must take what one can get) The actual trail ride should be between 6-8 hours of steady pace between 15-20 kph, including breaks and some short side trips.

How sophisticated are some of those rail-trails? The one from Midland to Orillia is paved for 2/3 its length! My preference is actually quality crushed limestone, and from conversation with others, even with road bikes, the sentiment is shared, but the point is, there's a huge untapped market of quality rail-trails barely being used. I've seen a few more people on the trails this year, mostly locals 'out for a ride'...what I'm not seeing, especially away from urban areas, is serious adventure/distance cyclists.

You want a good theory as to why the Olympic standards are slipping in this nation? People are becoming flaccid. Some of those rail-trails are superb cycling, and safe. It's time for Cdns to start using them, and accessing them with transit service is the key. God knows there's very few safe and attractive ways to cycle into/out of Toronto through the GTHA.

Edit to Add: Btw: Back in the Casino Rama days, I thought: "Yes! I could use that for an access to cycling country"....except they didn't allow bikes. Figures, gamblers...I wouldn't be surprised it wasn't all made a smoking and drinking section too...
 
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