Rider shares experience on the first GO train from London, Ont.

About two dozen passengers paid an early morning visit to the VIA Rail station in London, Ont., on Monday as GO Transit made its inaugural train departure from the city.

It marked the first trip of a new extension that sees GO Transit’s train service shoot into London, Stratford and St. Marys.

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On board was Matthew Peloza, a self-described “transit geek” who wanted to experience the new ride first-hand and share his findings via Twitter.

“Whether people want me to talk about it or not, I can’t help but talk about trains and transit systems and things of that like,” Peloza told Global News.

Peloza says the boarding experience was “a little bit different than what you would see in a VIA train.” He also noticed the absence of Presto fare system machines, which supply tickets for GO Transit, at the London station, meaning riders need to buy their tickets online.

As Peloza had expected, the first day of travel had few passengers, about 24 or 26 boarded in London, followed by a few more in St. Marys and eight in Stratford.

It was also a bumpy ride from London to Kitchener, which Peloza credits to the condition of the track between the two cities.

“You really kind of feel that sway and the bump of the track as you work your way towards Kitchener. The track from Kitchener heading towards Toronto at that point actually becomes no longer (Canadian National Railway) track and it’s Metrolinx that owns the track,” Peloza said.

“You notice a significant improvement in the quality of the rail. The train can go faster and it feels a lot smoother.”

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The four-hour trip from London to Toronto was “definitely very long,” but Peloza says the strength of the service will depend on whether GO Transit can build on the stops in between.

There’s also room for improvement in the scheduling and available departure times.

“Certainly a 5:20 a.m. departure time in London is a bit rough. If I wasn’t really devoted to riding that train, I probably wouldn’t have taken it at that time of day,” Peloza said.

“Midday rides that would be connecting places like London to Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph would certainly be something that would likely be able to drive more ridership in the future in my opinion.”

Matt Llewellyn is a spokesperson for Metrolinx, GO Transit’s parent company, and says Monday’s trip marks only the first step in a two-year pilot project.

“That’s really the way that we’re evaluating this pilot is really taking a look at it as an incremental service increase into a region that we know is in definite need of this type of public transportation,” Llewellyn said.

The evaluation process will consist of analyzing ridership levels and customer feedback, along with looking at opportunities to improve the service.

“Whether that be in terms of travel time or perhaps train frequency,” Llewellyn added.

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While he recognizes that he only experienced the early stages of a pilot project, Peloza says GO Transit’s arrival in London has fuelled his optimism for rail service in the city.

“A lot of people refer to London as the fourth busiest VIA train station in VIA’s train network, only behind Ottawa, Toronto Union and Montreal. There is a lot of pent-up demand for rail travel in this region and it is a regional hub with tracks leaving in four different directions out of London,” Peloza said.

He added that he’s also excited by a recent pledge from the federal government to improve passenger rail in the region, which came weeks after Ottawa unveiled it would begin a procurement process for a multi-billion-dollar high-frequency rail project linking Quebec City and Toronto.

“The GO train offers great regional local travel options and VIA’s trains, if they build out the system properly, gives you that great fast intercity connection,” Peloza said.

“I hope both happen, I really do.”

 

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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