Rail connectivity between Niagara Falls and Toronto continues to gain ground. The government of Ontario has announced that weekend GO trains from NF to TO (currently seasonal) will now be year round. The transportation development was posted in The Standard, where Ray Spiteri wrote, “…weekend GO train service between Niagara Falls and Toronto will run all year, starting Aug. 31.” This is just another indicator that there is an increasing demand in enhanced rail schedules due to more people commuting from Niagara Falls to Toronto, and more Torontonian tourists visiting Niagara Falls. Apparently, this is just an initial push that will ultimately lead to expanding GO Train commuter weekday service in Niagara. The news spells out that Niagara Falls (Canadian side) is no longer simply a seasonal destination – it’s becoming a place where people want to live, while commuting for jobs in Toronto. A growing number of commuters (and tourists) has prompted the year round GO Train schedule.
This is the time that Buffalo should be looking at ways to capitalize on this regional rail connectivity, to Niagara Falls, and on to Toronto.
This morning I called an Amtrak agent to “test book” a train and learned that, for example, if I wanted to leave Buffalo on Friday, August 30, there is a Maple Leaf train that departs from the Exchange Street station at 3:45pm. It arrives at the Pseudo Station in Niagara Falls (American side) at 5:04pm, and then departs for Toronto at 6:10pm. The train then arrives at Union Station at 8:06pm. That’s well over 4 hours, which is pretty long considering that driving is around an hour and 20 minutes. It might be easier to drive to the Canadian side, to catch at train at the Highway 42o Station, which would be about a 2 and half hour trip. Even though that might still sound long, you have to take into consideration that you will not have to deal with traffic, which can be a real bear as you roll into Toronto… or even Hamilton for that matter.
The travel time of the GO Train, NF to Toronto is scheduled as 2hrs4m – making 6 stops, St. Catharines, Burlington, Oakville, Port Credit (Mississauga), Exhibition then Union Station (Toronto). Schedule is here.
The good news is that there are more trains being added to the route, throughout the course of the year instead of just seasonally. Hopefully more trains can be added to the route – it would be nice to leave Buffalo early in the morning on a Saturday for a day trip to Toronto. It will also be interesting to see if there are ways that we can speed things along when it comes to traveling from Buffalo to Niagara Falls… and then onto Hamilton and Toronto. Driving to Toronto can be precarious if you run into any traffic, which makes the train appealing. But 4+ hours from Exchange Street?
After posting this article, a reader chimed in via email, which I feel is an important add-on to this ongoing conversation:
For reference, the travel time of the GO Train, NF to Toronto is scheduled as 2hrs4m – making 6 stops, St. Catharines, Burlington, Oakville, Port Credit (Mississauga), Exhibition then Union Station (Toronto). Schedule is here.
If trying to read GO Schedules, note that train runs are in colour (red in this case) and most end at Aldershot or Hamilton and meet a bus. But 3-4 daily are trains from NF itself.
Those run times will improve. Currently the track from Hamilton to NF is only zoned for 65mph train service as it was mostly freights. It will (likely) be phased up to 80mph or higher over the next few years. That should shave another 20m off the run time at least, maybe more. (no official announcement on this yet)
As to Amtrak, I can’t speak for the meandering pace from Buffalo to NF; but at the border, the key is pre-clearance for customs. Currently there are plans to do this for Montreal-NYC service and for Vancouver, BC – Seattle service. Where people will be cleared by customs before boarding the train, just like at the airport. No plans to do this in the Toronto-Buffalo-NYC corridor so far as I know.
A bigger problem with the Maple Leaf is that’s its a fairly long-haul service from NYC to Toronto, and as such lots of little delays can happen throwing off arrival times by quite a bit.
I think if one was to imagine a more useful connection from Buffalo to Toronto, it would probably have to be a dedicated service only between those 2 cities with NYC – Toronto being separate and NYC-Buffalo being separate. A 4pm train that leaves at 6pm is not ideal. That service would likely, nominally be joint VIA/Amtrak, but needn’t be; could be either/or. I think that would be great for Buffalo and useful to many folks in Toronto for business, or for catching a Bills game. But that’s probably a few years off yet.