Expanding rail service

By Bradford Times Staff

Metrolinx has released its proposals for expanded service along the Barrie rail line.

Metrolinx has released its proposals for expanded service along the Barrie rail line.

Metrolinx has big plans for expanding service on the 63 km Barrie line that connects Allandale Station, with Union Station in Toronto: a second set of railway tracks, modifications to bridges, upgrades to train stations,  a new train layover facility in Bradford West Gwillimbury, and the electrification of the trains.

May 11 marked the start of the formal Transit Project Assessment Process for the proposed Barrie Rail Corridor Expansion. Copies of the draft environmental studies and preferred designs are available at Residents are asked to review the information, and then provide feedback through an online survey, available until June 1. 

The current Rail Corridor is a single track. The expansion calls for the twinning of the track from Lansdowne in Toronto, to Allandale, in phases. Phase 1, over the next 10 years,  will include twinning of the line south of  Aurora, and upgrades to the south train stations – including construction of pedestrian tunnels to allow riders to safely access new platforms. It also includes construction of a train layover in Bradford, currently proposed for Industrial lands on Artesian Industrial Parkway.

Phase 1 will support all-day, 2-way train service between Aurora and Union Stations. North of Aurora, trains will continue to operate at peak demand, and in peak directions – i.e., southbound in the morning, and northbound in the evening – every 30 minutes or more frequently, plus all-day service every 60 minutes in off-peak hours.

Phase 2, including extending the second track north of Aurora, electrification of the trains, and  upgrades to the Newmarket, East Gwillimbury and Bradford Stations, will take place “as additional funding becomes available from the Province.”  The proposal to electrify the trains will require a separate Environmental Assessment.

Studies have been completed that look at the potential impact on the environment, wildlife habitat, and source water protection. The report warns, “as train frequency, noise and activity increases along the corridor, more sensitive species may move away from the disturbances” – but with 14 trains already running during the week, the authors suggest that “sensitive” species likely already avoid the tracks.

Full fencing is proposed on both sides of the rail right-of-way, for public safety. Recognizing that the fencing is a barrier to wildlife movement, mitigation is proposed,  including “passage structures” for both large and small animals.

And to mitigate the expected losses of  wetland, woodland, and other habitat as the work proceeds, the studies propose measures that include no clearance of vegetation within the breeding-bird window (May 1-Aug. 31) while fledglings are observed in nests;  preservation of barn swallow nesting sites, erosion and sediment control, and even “compensation” - creating new habitat off-site.

The Bradford layover impacts 4.6 ha of natural lands –  including a 0.9 ha man-made wetland,and approximately 3.7 ha of “cultural meadow and thicket” regrowth. Among the concerns are the site's proximity to the Holland River provincially significant wetland, and the potential for at-risk or endangered species, such as Blanding's Turtle and Butternut trees, to be displaced - but the conclusion of the report is that “the net environmental benefit of public transit is expected to outweigh any residual effects.”