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Niagara would not take 'no for an answer': Metrolinx COO

By Ray Spiteri, Niagara Falls Review

Greg Percy, chief operating officer with Metrolinx, delivered the keynote speech at the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting and chair’s luncheon on Friday, April 21, 2017 at the Americana Conference Resort and Spa in Niagara Falls, Ont. (Harley Davidson/Special to the Review/Postmedia Network)

Greg Percy, chief operating officer with Metrolinx, delivered the keynote speech at the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting and chair’s luncheon on Friday, April 21, 2017 at the Americana Conference Resort and Spa in Niagara Falls, Ont. (Harley Davidson/Special to the Review/Postmedia Network)

A senior official with Metrolinx wants to work with the Niagara business community to get “more bums in the seats” when seasonal GO train service arrives for its ninth year in the region next month.

“You will help me sell your case if those seats are filled,” Metrolinx’s chief operating officer Greg Percy told a crowd of business leaders Friday.

“I really need to get this team working closely with our team to promote that service to get people in those seats. They are full on the July 1st weekend, but we want July 1st weekend to happen (more often) because then it just makes it a more compelling case — it helps me sell your business case when the current service is full and people are begging for more.”

Percy was the keynote speaker during the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce’s annual general meeting and chair’s luncheon at the Americana Conference Resort and Spa on Lundy’s Lane in Niagara Falls.

It was a timely address after the announcement last year by the provincial government that regular GO train service will arrive in the region by 2021, first to Grimsby and then to Niagara Falls by 2023.

During the question-and-answer portion of Percy’s address, he was asked if Niagara Falls, which attracts millions of visitors per year, could see year-round service before 2023.

“Nobody else has the falls, but everybody else has their own compelling case,” he said, adding Metrolinx has about 300 projects in the go and also has to take infrastructure complexities into account.

Percy was asked whether Niagara being selected as the host community for the 2021 Canada Summer Games might move the timeline forward.

“It’s a compelling case,” he acknowledged.

“We have to put that in the mix and there are many compelling stories and I think Niagara has always got a really good one — this makes it a little bit stronger.”

Despite that, Percy said “I’m not going to set an expectation saying we’ll take two years off the delivery because of it.”

He credited Niagara, which saw its political, business and academic communities come together to rally behind the GO train push to the provincial government, for not taking “no for an answer.”

“Metrolinx and Niagara region have gone back some years in building this relationship and making it successful. We have bus service that comes in every weekday, and a significant scale of bus service — 35 GO buses per day coming in and out of Niagara.”

And the partnership is growing, both from a bus and rail perspective, said Percy.

“As we go towards Niagara Falls, we have already announced a new (train) station in … Hamilton, there’s a new station in … Grimsby, there’s rehabilitation of stations in St. Catharines and in Niagara Falls. These are just the enablers to enable GO to happen in Niagara Falls. There’s also track-capacity structures. There’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be built.”

He said one of the issues making the process complex is working with CN, which owns the rail infrastructure.

“We’ve already started discussions with them to look at capacity … If you increase traffic, you need to increase structures, if you increase structures you need to increase signals and it keeps going. The price tag on doing all that stuff keeps going as well, so we’re into detailed discussions with them and we want to get to the appropriate level of capacity and investment to enable those to happen.”

Percy said there’s a budget for expanded GO service in Niagara, but “telling you what that is would be a little premature.”

Metrolinx offers regional transportation plans for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton areas.

Percy said it covers 40 municipalities, four levels of government and “lots of voices.”

He said about nine-million people live in Metrolinx’s catchment area, a number which continues to grow.

And with that growth comes an expectation for more public transportation options.

“It’s an area that we simply cannot ignore. The risk that we all bear in not trying to get out of it is simply called gridlock. What we see in Toronto is just representative of North America for all the large urban centres.”

He said Metrolinx continues to invest in more transportation improvements thanks to billions of dollars from the provincial government.

“The provincial government not so long ago provided $13.5 billion to create more expansion of GO. That will include Niagara. That includes a lot of municipalities, but it’s also to increase the intensity of where we serve today.”

Percy said Niagara and Metrolinx are on “the same page” and he understands the region’s desire to see expanded services “as quickly as possible.”

“That conversation keeps going to make sure what we build is sequenced in the right way and as fast as it can be done.”

rspiteri@postmedia.com