Today, the Stouffville GO train line runs from Union Station eastward, sharing the Lakeshore line to Scarborough (Junction) GO station before turning northward. It heads due north to Unionville before snaking through Markham to the edge of the urban boundary. Eventually, the line reaches Stouffville and the terminus at Lincolnville. Bus connections extend the line to Uxbridge, and while only peak-hour train service is provided today, the construction necessary to bring all-day service to central Markham is largely complete.
The line has been in the news lately, as Markham Regional Councillor Jim Jones has proposed to transform the line into a more subway-like rapid transit route with more stops and frequent service. What I like about this proposal is that it tries to shatter the public perception of what commuter rail can be. While most passenger railway lines in North America only offer hourly or half-hourly off-peak service, similar services in Europe run every few minutes. The Raynes Park station in southwest London is one such example, as it sees at least 12 trains per hour towards Waterloo station in the off-peak. In addition, most passenger rail lines in North America have stations spaced fairly far apart. In London, however, mainline railways stop spacing is similar to that of the Underground, particularly south of the Thames where the Tube does not really venture.
What I don’t like about this proposal is that shifting the service to another agency (which is essentially what is proposed) needlessly complicates implementation of the vision. GO Transit is an agency which is responsible to the government, and their job is to run trains. Given the policy direction and funding for the upgrades and the equipment, there is no reason why GO would decline to operate such a service. If we take the cynical belief that politicians will always follow the path of least resistance, then isn’t lobbying for GO to provide more frequent and frequently-stopping trains the path of least resistance?
Looking beyond converting the line into an “Overground“, future improvements could involve extending the line to Goodwood, Uxbridge and beyond. The rails between Lincolnville and Uxbridge are intact, owned by GO Transit, and are used by the York-Durham Heritage Railway. Northeast of Uxbridge, the line once reached Blackwater Junction where one branch travelled east to Lindsay, while a second branch travelled northeast to Coboconk. In addition, a branch once diverged from Stouffville and headed north to Sutton, crossing the CN Bala subdivision at Mount Albert. Resurrecting these branches may be a wise move in the long term.