Earlier this month, a collection of politicians from all 3 levels of government ceremonially broke ground on the new $35 million Confederation GO Station, to be built along the existing CN tracks on Centennial Parkway in Stoney Creek. The station is slated to open in 2019, and will initially be served by an extension of the Lakeshore West line.

The station itself will feature an island platform, heated waiting shelters, platform canopies, a bus loop with heated shelters, a Kiss & Ride, bicycle parking, and approximately 600 parking spaces. It will be built on the west side of Centennial Parkway, with vehicular access off of Goderich Road, though it will have direct pedestrian access to Centennial Parkway.

Rendering of Confederation GO Station, image courtesy of Metrolinx

Confederation GO is just one of a series of projects that will bring GO service into Niagara Region. In addition to this station, GO plans to open stations in Grimsby (at Casablanca Boulevard) by 2021, and in St Catharines and Niagara Falls by 2023. The St Catharines and Niagara Falls stations will be renovated versions of the existing Via stations, while the Casablanca station would be a new build, as the current Via station in Grimsby is unsuitable for GO service, even with renovations.

To support these new stations and new service, Metrolinx recently completed the Lewis Layover facility on Lewis Road in Stoney Creek, and is in the final stages of adding an additional track to the Desjardins Canal Bridge, roughly midway between West Harbour and Aldershot GO stations at the Bayview Junction. UrbanToronto wrote about the Desjardins Canal project last year. Metrolinx is also in the process of negotiating running rights with CN. Given that this is one of CN's main freight lines, working out a schedule that works for both CN and GO is proving to be quite a challenge.

Niagara Extension station location map, image courtesy of Metrolinx

Another logistical challenge is the crossing of the Welland Canal. The current rail bridge must be physically opened (closing it for rail traffic) whenever a ship needs to pass. This can potentially lead to significant train delays. And given that this is a CN-owned corridor, they also get priority when the bridge is open. The Metrolinx Niagara Extension Business Case states that "[u]ntil an agreement is reached setting out an operational solution to the Welland Canal crossing that involves the co-ordination of rail and seaway movements, there is a risk of recurrent delay to the proposed service of up to 20 to 30 minutes or more, 12 to 16 times per month". In 2014, the Niagara Seasonal service experienced an average delay of 18 minutes at the Welland Canal, with 27% of all trips experiencing some delay. This resulted in a 63% on-time performance measure for the 2014 Niagara seasonal trips, compared to a 95% on-time measure for the system as a whole that same year.

For this reason, Metrolinx is looking at two potential service patterns for the Niagara Extension. The first is a direct extension of the Lakeshore West line. While this option would be preferable for Toronto-bound commuters, given the tight timing of Lakeshore West movements during peak periods, any delay on the Niagara segment of the line would cause a cascading series of delays on the current Lakeshore West corridor. And without improvements to the Welland Canal situation, as the Niagara season train stats above illustrated, such delays are almost certain to occur.

The rail bridge over the Welland Canal, image courtesy of Google Streetview

The second option would be to split the line at Confederation GO. Niagara trains would terminate at Confederation GO, where passengers could then transfer to a waiting Lakeshore West train. It was this option that the Business Case recommended.

One caveat with this though is that the Niagara extension service is likely to only be a peak-period service for the foreseeable future. The current plan would be 30-minute peak-direction service out of West Harbour GO in the AM peak, and into West Harbour in the PM peak. Those trips would be extended to Confederation GO once it opens. As a result, we're likely to only see the same level of service on the Confederation-to-Niagara Falls section of the corridor as well.

Rendering of Confederation GO Station, image courtesy of Metrolinx

You can share your thoughts on the Niagara extension and Confederation GO construction by visiting our GO Service or Construction forum threads, or by leaving a comment below.